Last week a Strasbourg plenary of Members of European Parliament (MEPs) voted to veto four health claims on caffeine because of concerns they would be used to create health halos over typically sugar-loaded energy drinks.
ESSNA said it regretted that two of the claims “exclusively targeted at adults performing endurance exercise” had been mixed up in the affair.
The four claims in question are:
- “Caffeine contributes to an increase in endurance performance.”
- “Caffeine contributes to an increase in endurance capacity.”
- “Caffeine helps to increase alertness.”
- “Caffeine helps to improve concentration.”
It called the anxieties behind the motion “speculative and unsubstantiated” and urged the “swift approval” of the two sports claims in particular to help better inform consumers of the benefits of sports products that contain caffeine.
ESSNA chair Dr Adam Carey said it was “frustrating” to see that the claims had been rejected because of “concerns over issues that have nothing to do with the needs of sportspeople”.
He said the claims had been scrutinised by the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) on two separate occasions – the claim dossier itself and later within a caffeine risk assessment.
“It therefore makes no sense whatsoever that the claims should have to go back for further re-evaluation.”
Spot the difference
Dr Carey also called for a line to be drawn between sports drinks and energy drinks as two different categories of drinks with different uses and different target audiences.
“ESSNA is also calling on policy makers to make a clear distinction between sports drinks and energy drinks – the former of which are solely targeted
at adults performing exercise and pose little risk to young people.”
Yet it is easy to see why the two categories may sometimes be blurred.
Sports event sponsorship has played a key part of energy drink marketing for major players like Red Bull and Monster.
Likewise, manufacturers of isotonic sports drinks formulated to provide added carbohydrates and electrolytes to help hydration and maintain performance during exercise and therefore with a high calorie count – have been criticised recently for their broad marketing appeal.
A study published in the British Dental Journal last month found 90% of quizzed teenagers drank sports drinks for the 'nice taste' not the intended use after exercise, which needlessly increased their risk of obesity and tooth erosion.
“Sports drinks intended to improve performance and hydrate athletes taking part in endurance sport are being marketed to children, for whom these products are not intended. Popularity among children has grown exponentially,” the researchers wrote.
Last month UK sports drink manufacturers formed a lobby group called Sports Drinks Britain to help differentiate sports drinks from normal sugar-loaded drinks, with the aim of winning exemption from the UK’s upcoming sugar tax in drinks.
Significant investment wasted
Danish Socialist MEP Christel Schaldemose, who tabled the motion, told the European Parliament last week that the “vast amount” of caffeine needed to be able to make the claims, meant “basically we’re talking about allowing health claims on energy drinks”.
However industry has said sports gels and caffeine pills as well as supplements with lower doses but for repeat consumption would also lose out if the claims were blocked.
Dr Carey said last week's vote was a setback for the industry after substantial investments had been made.
“The industry is making a significant investment to get these approved and quite frankly it’s extremely disappointing when scientifically proven claims are rejected without any basis or foundation.
“Not only does this have a negative impact on the industry’s innovation and growth, it stands in the way of informing and educating consumers about their sports nutrition needs.”
He said this withheld “scientifically proven fact of the highest standards” from consumers, while penalising a “responsible and growing sector”.
Yet Schaldemose has said repeatedly that she is not questioning the scientific substantiation of the claims, but the appropriateness of their use on products like sugary energy drinks considering the global obesity crisis.
“We just don’t want to give them [energy drink manufacturers] this additional thing so they can earn a lot of money on a health claim that we think is not suited for young kids,” she told EuroparlTV ahead of the vote.