In the latest of an ongoing series of communications, Sens. Richard Durbin, D-Ill., and Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., have questioned the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) about "potential interactions and cumulative effects of additives with stimulant properties in energy drinks with high levels of caffeine" and "the unique health risks associated with consuming high levels of caffeine among young people."
Their letter, dated Sept. 11, was a response to an FDA letter of Aug. 10, which was a response to an original Durbin letter of April 4.
The Sept. 11 letter from the senators specifically calls out the additives taurine and guaraná (Paullinia cupana), which are generally recognized as safe as food additives when used to add flavor. However, the senators say, FDA has not addressed their use as providing a "stimulating effect" in energy drinks.
Additionally, the senators expressed concern about the amounts of caffeine in energy drinks and the "potential health risks" for children consuming these beverages. (Energy drink makers are currently facing investigation for possibly misleading consumers. For the whole story, click here.)
"We ask the FDA to include adolescents and children in their assessment of the safety risks posed by consuming high levels of caffeine, such as those in energy drinks," they said.
In their most recent letter, the senators also encourage the agency to finalize adraft guidance for liquid dietary supplements that would eliminate what they say is "the current ambiguity between conventional foods and dietary supplements [which] leaves room for some food and beverage products to circumvent safety standards, such as those required for foods additives."
The American Herbal Products Association (AHPA) created a trade requirement in 2005 regarding the inclusion of caffeine in dietary supplements. Among other requirements, the policy mandates that labels for dietary supplements containing caffeine "disclose the quantity of caffeine per recommended serving of the dietary supplement, stated in both (1) milligrams per serving and (2) in equivalent approximate cups of coffee, where 100 mg of caffeine represents one cup of coffee."
AHPA notes that major marketers of beverages containing caffeine, including The Coca-Cola Company and PepsiCo, now voluntarily label the amount of caffeine in their beverage products.
"It's not surprising to AHPA that Sen. Durbin has taken this position and is being persistent in his communication with FDA on this matter," said Michael McGuffin, AHPA president. "FDA's response to the senators' first letter on energy drinks carefully addressed the issues, and the senators have now drilled into that response. FDA treated their first letter seriously, and certainly FDA will consider this letter seriously, as well."
This issue is also the subject of an article by AHPA General Counsel Anthony Young that appears in the September 2012 AHPA Report.