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Caffeine labelling likely to remain a matter of choice

Calls for the mandatory labelling of caffeine levels in all foods and beverages are likely to continue to fall on deaf ears despite a recent US Food and Drug Administration hearing that looked into the issue as well as caffeine levels and claims in the booming energy-drinks sector.

As it stands — unlike for supplements — there is no requirement for food and beverage companies to disclose caffeine levels in their products, although proponents were buoyed recently by voluntary Coca-Cola and Pepsi commitments to do exactly that. It is hoped other businesses will take similar steps, including retailers such as Starbucks, which does not disclose caffeine levels about any of its products.

The Washington-based better-nutrition group, the Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI), petitioned the FDA to make caffeine labelling mandatory in 1997, but the FDA has given little indication it will abide by the request.

"With the 'major' beverage companies putting caffeine on their labels, I don't believe the FDA will have to make it mandatory," Daniel Fabricant, vice president of scientific affairs at the Washington-based Natural Products Association, told FF&N. "The FDA has bigger fish to fry at the moment with GMPs and AERs, so any change is unlikely at the moment." He called for major coffee-house retail chains to disclose caffeine levels so that "we would have a level playing field, which is what consumers and industry want to see.

"I would love to see any functional-food/beverage-type products meet the labelling standard applied to supplements, which would mean not only listing the amount of caffeine but of all ingredients and the type of ingredients in the product," he added.

Loren Israelsen, executive director of Utah-based United Natural Products Association, said he expected industry to follow Coke and Pepsi's lead and pursue voluntary labelling, with a shift occurring mid-year.

A spokesperson for CSPI said caffeine-level restrictions should also be considered in the wake of energy-drink purveyors engaging in caffeine 'horsepower battles' that had some products offering the caffeine equivalent of three or more cups of coffee. "We are particularly concerned about the hazard this presents to vulnerable population groups such as children and pregnant women," he said. Nutrition Business Journal valued the US energy-drinks market at $2.5 billion in 2005.

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