Kurt Bayer

Kurt Bayer is an APNZ reporter based in Christchurch.

Energy drink deaths: experts want action

Push comes for faster NZ review as US starts inquiry into safety of caffeinated drinks

The US Food and Drug Administration has started an inquiry into the safety of Monster Energy drinks after receiving reports of five deaths. Photo / Thinkstock
The US Food and Drug Administration has started an inquiry into the safety of Monster Energy drinks after receiving reports of five deaths. Photo / Thinkstock

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

Two nutrition experts want the review hastened, with one calling energy drinks "dangerous stuff".

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

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

The transtasman Food Regulation Standing Committee (FRSC) Caffeine Working Group is looking at global developments in caffeinated products and regulatory approaches being taken in other countries. Its review, due to be discussed next year, could result in the NZ Government lowering its caffeine cap.

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. The American inquiry would be considered, she said.

Monster Beverage, a US top seller and major player in the NZ 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, monitored by the Ministry for Primary Industries. The ministry advises that excessive caffeine can lead to irritability, anxiety, dizziness, tremors, and insomnia.

AUT Professor of nutrition Elaine Rush said she was concerned about how long the review was taking and that much was not known about energy drinks.

"I'm very concerned, particularly about the aggressive marketing. It's almost like pushing a drug, branding is very powerful."

She had questions about the effect of caffeinated drinks on young people and "that's what's dangerous".

Clinical nutrition expert and spokeswoman for Dieticians NZ Cathy Khouri urged the review to make its recommendations "sooner rather than later". "It is dangerous stuff and we need to act now."

Ms Khouri, an Otago University tutor, said the energy drinks industry used "cool" advertising in the way the smoking industry did in the 1950s.

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

Kerry Tyack, executive director of the NZ Juice and Beverage Association, said while the US fatalities had been tragic, it was unfair to criticise drink manufacturers.

"These are drinks designed for adults, not children. These are also drinks that should not be taken in excess.

"The average energy drink contains 80mg of caffeine - that's about a cup of coffee - and obviously children should be nowhere near these drinks. People need to read the labels and abide by what the regulations say."

Energy drinks caffeine comparison:

Monster - 32mg caffeine per 100ml

160mg of caffeine per 500ml can

Mother - 32mg caffeine per 100ml

160mg of caffeine per 500ml can

Demon - 32mg caffeine per 100ml

182mg of caffeine per 568ml can

Pure Energy - 32mg caffeine per 100ml

182mg of caffeine per 568ml can

NOS High Octane Energy - 32mg per 100ml

182mg of caffeine per 568ml can

Red Bull - 32mg per 100ml

80mg per 250ml can

V - 31 mg per 100ml

109 mgs per 350ml bottle

Lift Plus - 14.5mg per 100ml

36mg per 250ml can

- APNZ

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