Red Bull Cola has been banned in at least six German states after the newest offering from the world’s leading energy drink maker was found to contain cocaine.
The controversy blew up on Friday after the food safety agency in North Rhine-Westphalia (LIGA) state found 0.4 micrograms per litre in the drink.
While Germany's Federal Institute for Risk Assessment (BfR) and the Federal Ministry of Food, Agriculture and Consumer Protection both said the level did not pose a threat to public safety, it was thought more states may join the ban.
"The institute examined Red Bull Cola in an elaborate chemical process and found traces of cocaine," said Bernhard Kuehnle, head of the food safety department at the Federal Ministry of Food, Agriculture and Consumer Protection.
Austria-based Red Bull issued a statement yesterday that said the problem had arisen out of its “use of a decocainised coca leaf extract in the product.”
“Decocainised coca leaf extracts are used as flavouring in foodstuffs around the world and are considered to be safe (eg FDA Gras Status, Council of Europe). Red Bull Cola and other foodstuff containing such extracts may therefore be sold legally.”
Red Bull said an assessment commissioned by the Austrian Belan Institute was unable to detect any trace of cocaine, “and consequently clearly contradicts the assessment furnished by LIGA.”
It said it met yesterday with the Bavarian Ministry for Environment, Health, and Consumer Protection.
“Based on this meeting, the Ministry has decided to officially investigate the existing examination results. In this way, we are sure that we will be able to clear up the facts very soon.”
BfR said it would produce a detailed report on the matter on Wednesday.
One German retail group, Rewe, stated it would remove Red Bull Cola from its shelves.
The use of coca leaves is something that industry is understandably coy about given its links to cocaine, even if decocainised leaves are legal in most countries.
According to a story in Time magazine, Coca-Cola refused to confirm or deny whether it used either regular or decocainised coca leaves in its products.