The mother of a US teenager who died due to caffeine toxicity after consuming energy drinks is suing Monster Beverage Corporation, and one of her lawyers is calling on the FDA to regulate the beverages and ban sales to minors.
Representing the mother Wendy Crossland, Kevin Goldberg from Goldberg, Finnegan & Mester, said: “I would like nothing more than to have these drinks regulated by the FDA and ban the sale to minors.”
Maryland resident Crossland said she just wants Monster Corporation to “know its product can kill”, since she blames the company for the death of her daughter Anais Fournier, 14.
Fournier suffered a cardiac arrhythmia last December after drinking two 24oz (710ml) Monster Energy drinks within a 24-hour period, the law firm said in a statement issued last Friday.
Strength-sapping blow for energy
Crossland sued Monster Corporation in the Superior Court of California for Riverside County last Wednesday, alleging strict product liability, failure to warn and negligence in the design, sale and manufacturing of the product, in addition to other claims.
The suit, and Goldberg’s pronouncement in particular, is another blow for the US energy drinks market – sales of Monster Energy alone totaled $1.3bn in 2011, while the market grew 240% from 2004 to 2009.
According to the law firm, the two drinks combined that Fournier drank are believed to have contained around 480mg of known caffeine, equivalent to almost 14 (12oz) cans of Coca-Cola.
Speaking last Friday, Crossland said: “I was shocked to learn that the FDA [Food and Drug Administration] can regulate caffeine in a can of soda, but not these huge energy drinks.
“With their bright colors and names like Monster, Rockstar and Full Throttle, these drinks are targeting teenagers with no oversight or accountability,” she added.
Crossland described such drinks as “death traps” for young girls and boys like her daughter Anais.
While the FDA requires that soft drinks contain no more than 0.02% or 71.5mg per 12oz of caffeine, Monster Energy’s caffeine content is unregulated due to its status as a dietary supplement rather than a food, and its beverage cans do not disclose caffeine content.
Six deaths, 15 hospitalizations...
The drink also contains the stimulants guarana and taurine – the former contains caffeine, the latter produces similar effects on the cardiac muscles – as well as herbal supplement Panax Ginseng; the suit notes that the National Institute of Health states this should not be consumed with caffeine.
The suit also revealed that, according to the FDA’s Center for Food Safety Adverse Event Reporting System, there have been six deaths and 15 hospitalizations associated with Monster Energy since 2009.
Goldberg said: “Our hope is discovery in this case will shed light on Monster Corporation’s practices regarding what they do or do not tell the public and FDA about the safety of their products.”
The suit comes at a time when the FDA is preparing to publish guidance distinguishing liquid dietary supplements from beverages in the wake of Senator Dick Durbin's April letter demanding regulatory action to tackle associated health concerns.
Asked when the FDA would publish its new guidance, spokeswoman Tamara Ward told BeverageDaily.com in late September: “We don’t have a timeline on our guidance for liquid supplements, but once a draft is available, it will definitely be made public.”
In an emailed statement to Food Safety News, Shelly Burgess, a representative for FDA’s Department of Health and Human Services, said that adverse event reports about a product do not mean that the reported event is caused by the product: “As with any reports of a death or injury the agency receives we take them very seriously and investigate diligently.
"Under the law, Adverse Event Reports serve as a signal to FDA and do not prove causation between a product or ingredient and an adverse event.”
Monster: 'Neither the science nor the facts support the allegations that have been made'
In a statement issued late Tuesday, Monster Beverage Corporation said: "Neither the science nor the facts support the allegations that have been made. Monster reiterates that its products are and have always been safe.
"Monster is saddened by the untimely passing of Anais Fournier, and its sympathies go out to her family. Monster does not believe that its products are in any way responsible for the death of Ms. Fournier and intends to vigorously defend the lawsuit."
It added that more than 8bn cans of Monster Energy have been sold and safely consumed since 2002 and that by comparison, "and entire 24-ounce can of Monster Energy contains about 240 milligrams of caffeine from all sources, which is around 30% less than the average caffeine contained in a medium-sized, 16-ounce cup of coffee house brewed coffee".