Fizz over energy drinks

By Kurt Bayer of APNZ

A spate of deaths in the United States linked to a highly caffeinated energy drink will be looked at as part of a transtasman review that could see caffeine levels in such drinks slashed here.

Two nutrition experts have called for the review to be hastened, with one calling energy drinks "dangerous stuff".

The US Food and Drug Administration began an inquiry into the safety of the highly caffeinated Monster Energy drinks after receiving reports of five deaths.

Ministers responsible for transtasman food and beverage regulation last year began a full review of the policy guideline on caffeine, including the amount of caffeine in energy drinks.

The transtasman Food Regulation Standing Committee Caffeine Working Group is looking at global developments in caffeinated products and regulatory approaches being taken in other countries.

Its review could result in the New Zealand Government lowering its current caffeine cap.

The review, which will propose various options for amendments to the policy guideline, is due to be discussed next year.

A spokeswoman for the Australian Government's Department of Health and Ageing said the policy guideline could then be passed on to the bi-national government agency Food Standards Australia New Zealand for possible further action, including reviewing the regulation of caffeine in the Food Standards Code.

Monster Beverage, a US top seller and major player in the growing New Zealand energy drinks market, contains no more caffeine than most of its rivals on Kiwi shop shelves.

Monster and other energy drinks including Red Bull, Mother, and Demon all contain the maximum 32mg caffeine per 100ml allowed under the Food Standards Code.

AUT professor of nutrition Elaine Rush said there was so much about energy drinks that was not known. "It's assumed that it's safe but everyone seems to react differently to it."

Clinical nutrition expert and spokeswoman for Dietitians New Zealand, Cathy Khouri, urged the review to make its recommendations "sooner rather than later".

But she warned against introducing age restrictions or enforcing reduced caffeine levels on drink manufacturers.

"There will be other things children of that age will have to decide about ...

"I'd like them to be able to make informed choices and walk past these drinks in supermarkets and think it's not such a healthy choice.

Ms Khouri, an Otago University tutor, said the energy drinks industry was "serious big business" which was targeting youngsters with "cool" advertising campaigns like the smoking industry did in the 1950s.

"It is dangerous stuff and we need to act now," she said.

She hoped the review would see the drinks banned in schools, introduce healthy sports stars as role models, and slash currently "huge" portion sizes.

Monster, sold for around $3 per 500ml can, contains 160mg of caffeine per can - more than five times what's in a 330ml cola can and double a small coffee. It also contains guarana - a South American plant with high levels of natural caffeine - as well as ginseng, niacin, riboflavin, taurine, inositol, salt, and 57mg of sugar - which equates to 14 teaspoons.

The Ministry for Primary Industries has warned that in high doses, caffeine can lead to irritability, anxiety, dizziness, tremors, and insomnia.

- Bay of Plenty Times

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