The Consumer Protection Council (CPC) has launched an investigation into the safety of additives in Nigerian Bottling Company’s Fanta and Sprite.
The CPC’s Director General, Dupe Atoki, who disclosed the position of the council to the media on Thursday said that the investigation became inevitable in view of the safety issue raised by a court judgment.
Mrs. Atoki said the Council “is keenly interested and extremely concerned about the questions that have arisen from, and on account of this judgement”, adding that “as such upon the discoveries therein, the CPC is launching a broad and detailed investigation as a matter of urgency”.
“Indeed the judgement only serves as the subject of bringing this information to CPC’s attention, the Council would conduct its own independent investigation,” she added.
“The reason for CPC’s interest is not far-fetched. For years, Fanta, Sprite and Coca Cola have arguably and consistently been the most widely consumed beverages in Nigeria. The spectrum of consumption is also perhaps the widest, with consumption starting as early as age four and far into adult years.
“In addition, Vitamin C is one of the most consumed medications for both children and adults, both as a matter of prescription/ over the counter and, or as dietary supplement. Essentially, both the NBC products and Vitamin C are routinely consumed in Nigeria with absolutely no restrictions to access and availability,” she said.
Mrs. Atoki hinted that some of the questions to be asked are; “Is Sprite/Fanta at the time of production potentially harmful to consumers when consumed with Vitamin C? If yes, what is NBC’s obligation to consumers and has NBC fully discharged that obligation?”,
She stated that “pursuant to the Consumer Protection Council Act, the Council is interested in discovering what steps if any, NBC took after the testing and confiscation of Fanta and Sprite by the United Kingdom’s authorities”.
She however disclosed that the council has engaged NBC in furtherance of the investigation, stating that the bottling company has been given seven days to respond to them because they asked them for a lot of documentation.
“We want to be free and fair. We do not want to base our decisions on what someone else has analysed. We have given them seven days within which to provide this information. And let me say that this will also involve us inviting experts to testify as to the various components and the effect on the consumers,” Mrs. Atoki said
A Lagos High Court ordered the National Agency for Food, Drug Administration and Control, NAFDAC, to direct the Nigeria Bottling Company Plc., manufacturers of Fanta and Sprite soft drinks, to include a warning on the bottles of the product, that its content cannot be taken with Vitamin C.
The judgment was on a suit filed by a Lagos-based businessman, Emmanuel Adebo, and his company, Fijabi Adebo Holdings Limited, against NBC Plc and NAFDAC.
In his suit, Mr Adebo urged the court to declare that NBC was negligent to its consumers by bottling Fanta and Sprite with excessive levels of benzoic acid and sunset additives.
He had tried to export Nigeria-produced Fanta and Sprite to the UK, where they were described as poisonous by authorities there and destroyed.
Benzoic acid is a white, crystalline powder with a faint, non-offensive odour.
Though it serves as preservative, if used excessively causes cancer and has been linked to asthma problems and increased levels of hyperactivity in children.
Benzoic acid is also used in the manufacture a wide variety of products such as perfumes, dyes, topical medications and insect repellents.
Sunset yellow is a dye that can be found in foods like orange juice, ice cream, canned fish, cheese, jellies, soft drinks and many medicines.
It can also be dangerous for human health as it causes urticaria, rhinitis, allergies, hyperactivity, abdominal pain, nausea, and vomiting in some individuals.
NAFDAC on Thursday said it has filed an appeal and a motion to stay execution of action on the judgement.
The health minister has also asked for a meeting with the Standards Organisation of Nigeria on the matter.
In its statement released on Wednesday, the NBC said there were different approved levels of benzoic acid between Nigeria and UK, but both were within the internationally accepted standard.
“The UK standards limit benzoic acid in soft drinks to a maximum of 150 mg/kg. Both Fanta and Sprite have benzoic levels of 200 mg/kg which is lower than the Nigerian regulatory limit of 250 mg/kg when combined with ascorbic acid and 300 mg/kg without ascorbic acid and also lower than the 600 mg/kg international limit set by CODEX.”
CODEX is the joint intergovernmental body responsible for harmonizing food standards globally.