Australian state ponders energy drinks ban

By Shane Starling

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags: Red bull, Energy drink, Caffeine

Australia’s most populous state, New South Wales (NSW), is considering a ban on high caffeine energy drinks in the Red Bull-led sector, after its Primary Industries minister, Ian McDonald, highlighted products loaded with up to 15 times recommended caffeine limits.

The call came after five primary school children suffered dizziness and nausea after consuming energy drinks.

“Some of these shots have between 12 and 15 times the level of caffeine permitted under the Food Standards Code,”​ NSW primary industries minister, Ian Macdonald, told Australian radio.

The Food Standards Code states that formulated caffeinated beverages must contain no less than 145 mg/L and no more than 320 mg/L of caffeine.

Loud and hyperactive

The Federation of Parents and Citizens' Associations added to the call, after it reported students becoming loud and hyperactive in class after consuming Red Bull, Cocaine and other energy drinks.

“Clearly these are issues that we really need to deal with, particularly as there’s lots of anecdotal evidence, at least, that these drinks can have quite a deleterious effect on young people.”

The matter is complicated by the fact some energy drinks are registered by the Australian​Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA). “If they are deregistered by the TGA, then I can take those drinks off the market,”​ McDonald said.

"It appears that some drink manufacturers have exploited a regulatory loophole by being registered with the TGA as a therapeutic good, despite containing caffeine levels in excess of those permitted under the Food Standards Code. Allowing these types of drinks to be marketed in this way is abhorrent and the NSW Government is being proactive in protecting the health of the community."

Others were registered as dietary supplements in New Zealand and therefore subject to a different set of rules to food products. McDonald said such matters would be discussed at an upcoming Food Standards Australia New Zealand (FSANZ) meeting in October.

Call for federal action

He has written to the Australian Federal government, requesting clarity on the issue, with particular emphasis on the effect of the drinks on children and adolescents.

“I will be asking my Federal counterpart responsible for food regulation to urgently undertake a dietary intake assessment of the short and long-term health and behavioural impacts of these beverages,”​ he said

McDonald named and shamed 'Fuel Cell' and 'Cintron' and called for their instant removal from shelves for excessive caffeine content.

Red Bull defended its products, noting a 60ml Red Bull Energy Shot contained the same amount of caffeine as a cup of coffee.

"We do not ever recommend Red Bull for caffeine sensitive people, including children,"​ a spokesperson said in press reports.

Some other drinks were registered as dietary supplements in New Zealand, an issue Mr MacDonald would take up at a trans-Tasman food standards meeting in October.

Marketing plays

The call comes at a sensitive time for the energy drinks sector in Australia with consumer groups accusing some manufacturers of inappropriately marketing the products at under-18s, and calling for controls.

One Sydney school took action into its own hands recently when Red Bull on-the-ground distributors were ushered off its grounds for attempting to distribute its energy drinks and paraphernalia about a red Bull-sponsored surfing event as the school day finished.

Red Bull in Germany

Better news for the sector came recently from Germany where retailer Rewe is once again selling Red Bull after withdrawing the products in some states in May following the detection of cocaine in Red Bull Cola products by a German authority.

But subsequent testing revealed such traces were in relation to the use of the legal substance, cocoa leaf, and presented no hazard to public health, and so the retailer reinstated the products.

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