The Consumer Protection Council (CPC) on Tuesday made public the outcome of its investigation into possible safety issues in Fanta, Sprite and other select soft drinks, strongly canvassing for regulatory review and actions for safer soft drinks in Nigeria.
The Council’s investigation came on the heels of public outcry and consumers’ apprehension following the action at a Lagos High Court in a suit between Fijabi Adebo Holdings Limited, Dr. Emmanuel Fijabi Adebo and Nigerian Bottling Company Ltd, and the National Agency for Food and Drug Administration and Control (NAFDAC), which alleged that Fanta Orange and Sprite may have the potentials to be hazardous due to its incompatibility with the Benzoic Acid Standards in the United Kingdom.
According to a statement issued by the Council, the CPC’s Director General, Mrs. Dupe Atoki, told journalists at the organisation’s headquarters in Abuja, that the levels of two additives, Benzoic Acid and Sunset Yellow, which raised public apprehension in the consumption of soft drinks because of the action at the Lagos High Court have been confirmed through laboratory analysis to be within the Nigerian Industrial Standards (NIS) limits.
Atoki said though the additives were within the NIS limits, issues of the significantly low and inconsistencies in the levels of the Benzoic Acid in the samples of Fanta Orange, Sprite, Mirinda, a product of the 7UP Bottling Company and Lucozade formerly manufactured by the Glaxo Smithkline tested during the course of the investigation, have thrown up the need for further investigative analysis and action.
The director general, who disclosed that NAFDAC and SON have been informed about the outcome of the investigation, stated that the Council has also recommended regulatory action and review of the “Benzoic Acid limits in soft drinks as the current standard, which has been in existence since 2008 is overdue for review”, particularly with the requirement for reviews pegged for every five years.
Also in the light of the high level of Benzoic Acid found in isolated cases of Mirinda and Lucozade tested, she said the Council has called for further regulatory investigative analysis, action and review in the levels of the additive in the products.
On Sunset Yellow, she pointed out that the Council has also recommended “regulatory action for a review of the standard as some countries have reduced the approved limit, some labeling requirements for its use, while some others have adopted its outright ban”
The director general disclosed that CPC, in commencing its investigation, obtained from the open market in eight locations within the six geopolitical zones of Nigeria, 65 samples of soft drinks, made up of Fanta Orange, Sprite, Mirinda and Lucozade and that these samples were sent to Sheda Science and Technology Complex (SHESTCO), a laboratory under the Federal Ministry of Science and Technology, for the analysis of the levels of Benzoic Acid and Sunset Yellow in the products.
According to her, the approved NIS limit for Benzoic Acid is 250mg/Kg when combined with Ascorbic Acid, also known as Vitamin C and 300mg/Kg without Ascorbic Acid, while that of “Sunset Yellow as specified by Codex Alimentarius Commission and NAFDAC is 100mg/Kg, which is similar to standards in China, South Africa and Middle East”.
She pointed out that the results of the tests, which were done by SHESTCO revealed “Benzoic Acid levels in Fanta Orange as ranging from 5.09mg/L – 197.0mg/L; Sprite 2.82mg/L – 239.0mg/L; Mirinda, a product of 7UP Bottling Company 0.56mg/L – 330.9mg/L; and Lucozade formerly produced by Glaxo SmithKline 2.26mg/L – 323.53mg/L”.
The CPC boss further disclosed that the laboratory results also revealed that the “levels of Sunset Yellow in thirty-two samples of Fanta Orange products were within the range of 23.1mg/L -35.5mg/L, while those of Mirinda ranged between 26.1mg/L and 34.0mg/L and those of Lucozade ranged from 22.7mg/L –30.0mg/L.”
She pointed out that the Council also found that Benzoic Acid levels in some of the sampled soft drinks which were obtained from the open market, recorded extremely low levels of 0.56mg/L to 2.26mg/L and that the results also showed isolated cases of Mirinda and Lucozade with Benzoic Acid levels of 330.9mg/L and 323.53mg/L respectively, which are above the NIS limit.
Further review of the test results of the products sampled, she said indicated that levels of Benzoic Acid in samples from the Northern zones were lower than those of the Southern zones showing as low as 2.26mg/L in the north and 5.09mg/L in the south.
She pointed out that CPC also engaged in extensive research as well as carried out a comparative analysis of countries with temperate and tropical climatic conditions on the approved level of Benzoic Acid in their soft drinks.
According to her, “It was found that contrary to the claims that climatic conditions is a factor for the present limit of Benzoic Acid in soft drinks in Nigeria, four tropical countries namely Ghana, Pakistan, India and Malaysia with climates similar to Nigeria’s have lower approved limits for Benzoic Acid ranging from 100mg/kg to 150mg/kg as opposed to the NIS’ limit of 250mg/kg for Nigeria.
It must be noted that at a high temperature, which is common in tropical regions of the world, Benzoic Acid has a higher tendency to decompose and release Benzine, a carcinogen, when compared with temperate regions that have lower temperatures.
With regards to the level of Sunset Yellow, she disclosed that the Council found out from its research that Sunset Yellow has been banned in several countries, including Sweden, Norway, Finland and Australia because of its adverse effects, while some others across the world have labeling requirements for its use.
Atoki explained that “Benzoic Acid, a preservative used in food and soft drinks, inhibits microbial growth and helps in the achievement of shelf life in products where it is used and it also helps to retain the integrity of soft drinks so that taste, color and flavor are consistent over the shelf life period”.
She stated that Sunset Yellow, which is a petroleum-derived orange azo dye widely used in the production of soft drinks, ice-creams, pastries, among others, gives a pleasant appearance to food and drinks.
She, however, asserted that the two additives if not appropriately used or regulated can cause side effects, disclosing that “the consumption of soft drinks containing Benzoic Acid in combination with other factors, including but not limited to storage, distribution methods and the presence of Ascorbic Acid, could potentially result in adverse effects.
“Benzoic Acid is known to be safe in small quantities. Like most chemicals that have toxic properties, the effect of benzoic Acid depends on its concentration. The higher the level of Benzoic Acid, the higher the potential for adverse effects, including skin or other ephemeral irritation and discomfort, to neurological disorders in children, and other physiological diagnosis to consumers”, she said.
On the side effects of Sunset Yellow, the director general said: “Sunset Yellow and other food colorants, are regulated additives and are ordinarily safe for consumption. Sunset Yellow is known to cause side effects such as runny nose, nasal congestion, hives, allergies, kidney tumors, chromosomal damage, hyperactivity, abdominal pain, nausea, vomiting, indigestion, attention deficit disorder and a loss of appetite or taste for food”.