The European Commission has established new rules governing the labelling of caffeine and quinine in drinks and food in a bid to protect consumers who might be prone to adverse reactions.
The Commission said in a statement that small quantities of these ingredients were unlikely to pose any health risk for most consumers, but that even very small quantities of the products could be harmful to those consumers susceptible to adverse reactions.
The new rules will alert consumers to the presence of these substances and, in the case of caffeine, indicate where the level exceeds a certain limit.
Quinine, which is used as a flavouring in some soft drinks, (especially tonic water), can cause an adverse reaction when consumed by people with certain metabolic disorders or with a hypersensitivity to the substance. High caffeine consumption may trigger temporary behavioural changes, particularly in children, and is also not recommended for pregnant women.
At present, European Union regulations do not require the compulsory or specific mentioning of flavourings in ingredient lists, which means that caffeine or quinine do not need to be labelled when used as flavourings.
In addition, even in cases when caffeine needs to be labelled, there is no current requirement to indicate whether the level is high.
The new regulations address both these loopholes and harmonise the national rules which are applied by Member States and which can often differ greatly from country to country. This should also facilitate trade between the 15 EU countries, the Commission said.
The new rules will apply to drinks containing more than 150 milligrams of caffeine per litre, which means that normal cola drinks will not be affected because their caffeine levels fall below this limit. Drinks based on tea and coffee will not be required to label the quantity of caffeine as long as the name of the drink makes clear it has been made from tea or coffee.
For all other products - especially the increasing number of energy drinks available on the market, many of which use caffeine as the main stimulant ingredient - the label must carry the term 'high caffeine content' and the amount of caffeine used in the same field of vision as the name of the product.
The new rules should come into effect by 1 July 2004, the Commission said.