Fanta, Sprite in Nigeria Safe for Consumption—Health Ministry

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By Modupe Gbadeyanka

Nigeria’s Ministry of Health has allayed fears of Nigerians concerning a recent court judgement directing the National Agency for Food and Drug Administration and Control (NAFDAC) to mandate the Nigeria Bottling Company (NBC) to put a warning on bottles of Fanta and Sprite for consumers to know that taking either brand of drink with Vitamin C was dangerous.

Business Post gathered that the Minister of Health, Prof Isaac Adewole, recently summoned a meeting of the Department of Food and Drug Services, Federal Ministry of Health, NAFDAC and Standards Organisation of Nigeria (SON) to address the issue.

At the meeting, it was confirmed that the Coca-Cola products manufactured in Nigeria were safe for consumption after being satisfied that risk assessment was conducted to ascertain maximum limits of food additives acceptable in foods, which took into consideration the environmental, storage and distribution conditions as well as the shelf life of food products.

It was said that NAFDAC and SON regularly monitor the manufacturing practices of food industries and conduct laboratory analysis to ascertain continuous compliance with required national standards and there was a routine inspection conducted at Nigeria Bottling Company by NAFDAC officers in December 2016 which was satisfactory.

Business Post learnt that the Minister has therefore advised Nigerians to take medicines with potable water as this would help prevent unexpected drug-food interactions, noting that all bottling companies are encouraged to insert advisory warnings on all products as necessary.

Both Benzoic acid and Ascorbic acid (Vitamin C) are ingredients approved by International Food Safety regulators and used in many food and beverage products around the world.

Codex Alimentarius Commission (CAC) is the organ established by Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) and World Health Organization (WHO) to set internationally recognized standards, codes of practice, guidelines relating to foods, food production, and food safety.

In the case of Benzoic acid, the standard set by Codex was 600mg/kg until recently reviewed to 250mg/kg and adopted in 2016. (CODEX STAN 192-1995 revised 2015 and 2016) and with reference to the Codex standard and other relevant documents, SON, as the standard setting body in Nigeria in consultation with technical experts and relevant stakeholders, elaborated the standard of benzoic acid in soft drinks to be at 250mg/kg based on the National climatic and storage conditions.

This standard has been in existence since 1997 and revised in 2008. (NIS 217:2008) and the the levels of benzoic acid in Fanta (1 batch) and Sprite (2 batches) presented by the claimant in the court were 188.64mg/kg, 201.06mg/kg and 161.5mg/kg respectively.

It was gathered that these levels are in compliance with both the Codex and Nigeria Industrial Standards.

The reason for the difference between the standard of Fanta and Sprite in Nigeria and the United Kingdom, according to the Health Ministry, is with reference to the Codex standards, which gives each country or region to permission to adapt a standard/limit based on country specific scientific evidence such as environmental, storage and distribution conditions.

Benzoic acid as a preservative prevents the growth of microorganisms which thrive more at higher climatic temperatures like in Nigeria and due to the different environmental conditions obtainable in the UK, the standard for benzoic acid was set at a lower limit of 150mg/kg while in Nigeria it was set at 250mg/kg even below that of Codex (as at time of production of that batch; Codex limit was 600mgkg).

Food products being imported into a country must comply with the relevant standards of the destination country.

NAFDAC has processes in place to ensure products imported into the country are evaluated to ascertain compliance with required Nigeria Industrial Standards and it was alleged that the claimant did not obtain NAFDAC certification before exporting the products, otherwise, he would have been advised on the required standard of the destination country.

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