FGC comment on caffeine in soft drinks

Press Release 13/02/2013

The suggestion by the Otago-Southland Coroner of health warnings on soft drinks was no doubt well intentioned, but shows a lack of understanding of New Zealand’s food regulatory system, NZ Food & Grocery Council CEO Katherine Rich says.

“The food labelling system that New Zealand shares with Australia permits caffeine in cola-type soft drinks up to a maximum level of 145mg/kg. This level has been assessed as being safe for children and adults to consume in soft drinks. Warnings are mandatory on energy drinks where caffeine levels are higher than 145mg/kg.

“Neither the Ministry of Health nor Environmental Science & Research are responsible for food labelling – that’s the domain of the Ministry for Primary Industries, which oversees and enforces a trans-Tasman food code developed by Food Standards Australia New Zealand. 

“Guidelines for the use of caffeine in the food supply are currently the subject of an official review, and FGC will be making a submission to this review.”

Mrs Rich says the death of Natasha Harris is a tragic and complicated case, but it does not provide a strong case for changes to either labels or caffeine levels. 

“In his finding, the Coroner recognises that tobacco warning labels made absolutely no difference to Ms Harris’s decision to smoke up to 30 cigarettes a day, so it’s hard to reconcile this with the recommendation that warning labels on caffeinated beverages should be considered and may have influenced her decision to consume excessive amounts of soft drink. 

“The FGC does not support the Coroner’s call for warning labels on fizzy drink. 

“No regulatory system can legislate for extreme cases.

“There isn’t a labelling regime in the world that could have prevented such a tragic case, where a person consumed the equivalent of up to 30 cans of soft drink a day, the sheer volume of which crowded out the possibility of receiving vital nutrients from other food sources.  Nutrition experts have made it clear that even the consumption of the same volume of water or any other food would have been just as damaging in the long term.

“Any discussion around caffeine levels or labelling eventually faces the conundrum that coffee, tea, and chocolate are major sources of caffeine in the New Zealand food supply.  New Zealanders are unlikely to support the idea that their flat whites and chocolate bars should come with a health warning.”