Authorities play down drink extract cocaine concerns

By Neil Merrett

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags: Red bull, Coca-cola

Decocainised coca leaf extract, which has been linked to the recent alleged discovery of traces of cocaine in some samples of Red Bull Simply Cola, will not face regulatory scrutiny regarding its wider use in formulations.

Decocainised coca leaf extract, which has been linked to the recent alleged discovery of traces of cocaine in some samples of Red Bull Simply Cola, will not face regulatory scrutiny regarding its wider use in formulations.

The extract, which is permitted for use as a flavouring in food and drinks with both FDA​Generally Recognized As Safe (GRAS) and Council of Europe approved status, was initially linked by the drinks manufacturer to the apparent discovery of cocaine in its cola brand.

However, food safety officials at the European Commission say that despite the actions of retailers like Germany-based Rewe in banning the Red Bull cola product, it is not currently calling for a review of the ingredient over potential safety concerns linked to its wider use.

“There is no indication at this point in time of decocainised coca leaf extract containing cocaine,”​ states a spokesperson for the Commission. “The extract is used all over the world with no negative effects known so far.”

Red Bull dismissal

The controversy blew up last Friday after the food safety agency in North Rhine-Westphalia (LIGA) state found 0.4 micrograms per litre in samples of the drink. These findings have now been dismissed by Red Bull, which claims that independent testing at an accredited Institute in Austria has since confirmed that the leaf extract does not pose of safety link due to traces of the outlawed narcotic.

The European Commission say that after receiving initial information from German authorities about the Northrhine-Westphalia LIGA test, no additional concerns have since been raised about the product.

“We did not receive any notification from Austria,”​ says a spokesperson for the European Commission, referring to the more recent independent testing. “Thus at the time of their information to us, the German authorities were not certain themselves that there was even an irregularity.”

Market bans

While the company claims to be waiting for official clearance from German authorities in regards to the product, the subsequent fallout from the cocaine allegations have already setback Red Bull’s Cola product in certain markets.

Bans have been implemented in Taiwan and Hong Kong, with Jordan’s Food and Drug Administration (JFDA) also pulling Red Bull from shelves until further investigations could verify its content and safety.

Public risk

Under the levels alleged to have been found in the cola drink by LIGA, no dangers were linked to the traces in the drink during testing though.

Both the German Federal Institute for Risk Assessment (BfR) and the Federal Ministry of Food, Agriculture and Consumer Protection said the level did not pose a threat to public safety.

Toxicologists have advised that a consumer would have to drink two million 250mL cans of Red Bull to imbibe enough cocaine to have an overdose.

Despite the verdicts, national trade groups like the British Soft Drink Association (BSDA) say that no traces of cocaine can be permitted in soft drinks sold in the country.

The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) adds that it was the responsibility of manufacturers operating in the US to ensure that their products were meeting national laws on safety and drug traces.

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