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FG begins probe over harmful substance in Coca Cola, Fanta, Sprite

In a renewed move to ensure that food and drinks manufactured in the country do not contain any substances that could be harmful to health, the Federal government has set up a committee to investigate some complaints on Coca Cola, Fanta, Sprite and other beverages consumed in the country.

This development was contained in a statement signed by Booa Fashino, Head of Media and Public Relations, the Standard Organization of Nigeria (SON) in Abuja on Saturday.

The development might not be unconnected to issues arising from the recent court judgement on the rejection of some manufactured soft drinks exported from Nigeria to the United Kingdom, which was confiscated on the condition that it contained some harmful substance.

The Daily Times recalls that a Lagos High Court in Igbosere had ordered the National Agency For Food, Drug Administration and Control (NAFDAC) to mandate the Nigerian Bottling Company Plc (NBC), manufacturers of Coke, Fanta and Sprite soft drinks, to include a written warning that the content of the bottles cannot be taken with Vitamin C.

In a judgement delivered by Justice Adedayo Oyebanji, the court warned that taking the soft drinks with Vitamin C is poisonous.

The court also declared that NAFDAC has failed Nigerians by its certification as satisfactory for human consumption, products which in the United Kingdom failed sample test for human consumption and which became poisonous in the presence of Ascorbic Acid ordinarily known as Vitamin C, which can be freely taken by unsuspecting members of the public with Fanta and Sprite.

The court also awarded N2 million cost against NAFDAC.

The judgement was sequel to a suit filed by a Lagos businessman, Dr. Emmanuel Fijabi Adebo, and his company, Fijabi Adebo Holdings Limited, against the NBC and NAFDAC.

The plaintiffs had urged the court to declare that the NBC was negligent and breached the duty of care owed to their valued customers and consumers in the production of contaminated Fanta and Sprite soft drinks with excessive “benzoic acid and sunset” addictive.

In an amended statement of claim filed before the court by a Lagos lawyer, Abiodun Onidare, on behalf of the claimants, the plaintiffs alleged that sometime in March 2007, Fijabi Adebo Holdings Company purchased from NBC large quantities of Coca-Cola, Fanta Orange, Sprite, Fanta Lemon, Fanta Pineapple and Soda Water for export to the United Kingdom for retail purposes and supply to their customers in the United Kingdom but on its arrival, fundamental health related matters were raised on the contents and composition of the Fanta and Sprite products by the United Kingdom Health Authorities, specifically the Stockport Metropolitan Borough Council’s Trading Standard Department of Environment and Economy Directorate.

Inaugurating the probe committee in his office, the Minister of Health, Prof Isaac Adewole alluded to the concerns raised by stakeholders on the issue and the government’s commitment to the safety and wellbeing of Nigerians.

According to the Health Minister, the probe committee’s terms of reference are as follows: to determine the safety of benzoic acid in foods, to determine if the use of benzoic acid can be replaced in foods, to ascertain if the levels of benzoic acid in carbonated drinks can be further reduced below 250mg/kg in Nigeria, to determine the frequency of monitoring of the safety levels of benzoic acid in foods and to give any other advice that the National Technical Committee may deem necessary.

Members of the National Technical Committee were drawn from the Department of Chemistry, University of Lagos (UNILAG), the Food and Drugs Section of the Federal Ministry of Health, SON, NAFDAC, Consumer Protection Council (CPC), Association of Food, Beverages and Tobacco Employers and representative of Civil Society Organisations.

The Committee, chaired by Professor Babajide Alo of UNILAG held its first meeting at the NAFDAC complex, Isolo in Lagos.

The Committee’s findings will form necessary data for consideration in future review of the Nigerian Industrial Standards for carbonated drinks which provides the benchmark for the product quality in the country.

The committee has two weeks within which to turn in its report to the Health Minister

Myke Uzendu, Abuja

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