Scrutiny intensifying for energy-drink claims

The emergence of energy drinks pushing weight-loss, extreme energy-boosting and aphrodisiac claims is causing some within industry to question whether more stringent regulation is required in the fastest-growing functional US beverage sector. Energy drinks grew 60 per cent to register sales of $2.5 billion in 2005 according to Nutrition Business Journal.

But new products, such as Turn On (New York-based Turn On Beverages), Cocaine (Nevada-based start-up Redux Beverages), and Enviga (joint venture between Coca-Cola and Nestlé), have raised eyebrows about the claims being made for them, as well as levels of ingredients such as caffeine, taurine, and herbal inputs such as guarana and schizandra.

Cocaine, which claims to give a "five-hour buzz," has been withdrawn from the Australian market for exceeding permitted caffeine levels there. US retailer 7-Eleven refuses to stock it. A group of Ohio law students has even challenged Cocaine's trademark application on the grounds it is "immoral and scandalous" and "deceptively misdescriptive," because the drink contains 280mg of caffeine but no cocaine.

Even market leader, Red Bull, tried to register the name 'Bullshit' in February 2006, but the US Trademark Trial and Appeal Board rejected the application on the grounds that it was "vulgar."

The Washington, DC-based Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI) has been a vocal critic of caffeine labelling, and called on the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to require mandatory caffeine labelling. In a letter to Coca-Cola, the CSPI stated: "Until the FDA acts, we believe that every food company whose foods contain caffeine, whether it occurs naturally or artificially, should disclose milligrams of caffeine voluntarily."

Coca-Cola and Nestlé list the caffeine content on each Enviga can, but its weight-loss claim has prompted the CSPI to issue legal action against the companies.

Enviga is also being investigated by Connecticut Attorney General Richard Blumenthal, who has suggested the claims may be "voodoo nutrition."

While Turn On, which contains ginseng, ginkgo biloba, guarana, schizandra, taurine and caffeine, has a label warning that states it is not suitable for children, diabetics and pregnant women, its marketing has been called irresponsible and it has been banned in several countries. It claims to increase "sexual energy and desire."

The need for greater regulation of ingredients, products and claims was discussed at a meeting convened by the FDA late last year, and the energy-drinks sector was identified as one of the main problem areas.

Daniel Fabricant, vice president of scientific affairs at the Washington-based Natural Products Association, said the existing regulatory structure did not need altering, but called on the FDA to act more swiftly to crack down on spurious products and claims. "The FDA has the power, it just needs to act more quickly," he told FF&N. "I am surprised it has not pulled Cocaine from the market yet."

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