Clipped wings? Indian regulators threaten to ban ‘energy’ drink label

By Ankush Chibber

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags: Caffeine

Brands like Red Bull may soon have to re-label themselves as caffeinated beverages in India if new guidelines are mandated
Brands like Red Bull may soon have to re-label themselves as caffeinated beverages in India if new guidelines are mandated
India’s food safety watchdog is set to issue new regulations and crackdown on caffeinated energy drinks, possibly stripping them of their ‘energy’ tag.

Health concerns relating to the high caffeine content of non-alcoholic, caffeinated beverages were discussed at the Ninth Annual Meet of the Food Safety and Standards Authority (FSSAI) of India.

The FSSAI said it would soon publish regulations, which have not been notified yet, that would strip such drinks of the ‘energy’ claim, relabelling them as ‘caffeinated beverages’.

The regulations, which have been two years in the making are set to be published soon, and would also force energy drink cans to carry statutory safety warnings.

These new regulations come after recommendations by an expert scientific panel, which used scientific data, caffeine consumption trends, overseas regulations, and expertise from other food institutes.

Red Bull caffeine content

Under the proposed regulations the upper limit for caffeine in a caffeinated beverage would be set at 320ppm (parts per million).

Currently there is no limit for caffeine content in such drinks, but the prescribed limit for caffeine in soft drinks or aerated sugar waters is 145ppm.

This would provide some relief to energy drink makers such as Red Bull, whose local unit had energy drinks confiscated by local food safety authorities for breaching the caffeine content limit for soft drinks earlier this year.

A spokesperson of the Maharashtra Food and Drug Administration (MFDA), said it had seized 1.6m cans of Red Bull because caffeine content in the energy drink was between 250ppm and 300ppm.

In response to the proposed regulations, Red Bull said that it, “welcomes harmonised labelling rules on caffeine which will apply throughout India.”

Compared to cocaine…

The FSSAI is expected to rule that all caffeinated beverages come with a mandatory safety warning stating: “Not recommended for children, pregnant or lactating women, persons sensitive to caffeine and sportspersons”.

Explaining the need for the warning, the food regulator said that the target segment of these drinks is the youth, who the manufacturers mislead by comparing, “the effects of their drinks to the use of drugs like cocaine.”

These beverages would also have to label “high caffeine content”​ and clearly state that such drinks are “not to be consumed more than two cans a day”.

The FSSAI statement added it will publish rules regarding the font size, percentage of space it should occupy and language to be used.

Red Bull refused to respond to the proposed labelling requirements, but one industry observer said most of these warnings are already on most energy drink cans.

“The dropping of the energy tag is worrying, although nothing official from the FSSAI has come yet. In any case, it does not change the efficacy of the drink,”​ he said. 

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