Too Much Caffeine in Energy Drinks?

New rules make drinks offer a buzz equal to coffee’s

Energy drinks will have their caffeine capped starting next month as part of a spate of new rules forcing companies to reformulate 28 drinks.

Health Canada has been grappling with how to regulate the popular beverages that are marketed as energy and concentration boosters, including Monster, Rockstar and Full Throttle. They debuted in North America when Red Bull arrived in the late 1990s and were later allowed in Canada as “natural health products.”

They’re now being reclassified as “food” and Health Canada is limiting their caffeine content, vitamins, minerals and amino acids.

Of 96 reclassified drinks, 28 had to change to meet the new requirements. Most of those had more than the new limit of 180 mg of caffeine per can or single-serving bottle — about the same as a filter drip 8 oz. (237 mL) coffee.

“When setting the 180 mg limit, we looked for a level that would not represent a risk, based on expected consumption patterns for these drinks,” Health Canada spokesman Sean Upton said in an email. For most adults, 400 mg of caffeine per day is considered safe.

In November, The Star detailed several reports filed with Health Canada that suspect, but don’t confirm, a link between the drinks and deaths, irregular heartbeats and amnesia.

All of the drinks, including larger resealable bottles, are also being capped at 400 mg of caffeine per litre. The new regulations require nutritional labels, as well as disclosing all caffeine, whether synthetic or from natural sources, including guarana and yerba mate.

For the next five years, companies have only temporary authorization to sell energy drinks, during which they’ll be required to report annual data on sales, consumption and incidents.

Jim Shepherd, who believes drinking a Red Bull contributed to his teenage son’s death, doesn’t feel the changes go far enough. He points to Mexico, where the senate voted in February to ban the sale to those younger than 18.

While Shepherd is glad data is required from the companies, he fears what could happen over the five-year period.

“Essentially, it means ‘We’re watching you,’” he said. “They’re waiting for more harm ... they don’t have definitive proof.”

Health Canada says it needs to collect the data before determining if further regulations are needed. “We consider there to be (information) gaps right now, as to how these products are actually being used,” said William Yan, a director in Health Canada’s bureau of nutritional sciences.

“Who’s consuming them? Is the labelling working? All those questions ... we’re trying to ask before we decide on the final risk-management approach.”

As of January, only the reformulated versions can be made, although stores don’t have to pull drinks already in stock. For products that already met the requirements, labels don’t have to be updated until December 2013.

Canadian Beverage Association spokeswoman Stephanie Baxter declined to speak about specific product changes but said “the majority of products that are out there already fall within the guidelines.”

Upton also wouldn’t identify the brands that had to change, saying doing so would reveal “confidential business information.”

Browsing Toronto convenience and grocery stores shows that several NOS, Monster and Rip It Energy drinks contain more than the new limit. A 550 mL can of Monster, for example, had 233 mg of caffeine.

The changes were announced in 2011 as a way to help reduce the chances of over consumption of caffeine and other ingredients.

Drink companies and the CBA say that the drinks are safe and the adverse reports are based on suspicions, not a proven connection.

“Similar energy drinks are sold in 160 countries around the world. They’ve been studied and these are beverages that are considered safe for consumption,” Baxter said.

A spokesperson for Coca-Cola, which makes NOS drinks, said changes have been made to the drinks and it has begun shipping the new products.

Rip It Energy’s parent company, National Beverage Corp., did not return several requests for comment.

Monster sent the Star a statement that said its beverages have been safely consumed since 2002 and it’s confident in its products. That company and Red Bull directed all questions to the CBA.

Any discussion about kids and other vulnerable groups consuming caffeine needs to look at other sources, Baxter said, adding energy drinks usually have less than coffee. “Concerns that teens are drinking them … is misplaced,” Baxter said. “An ice cap has more caffeine in it.”

The changes don’t apply to highly caffeinated “energy shots” and stop short of suggestions made by a panel convened by Health Canada to examine energy drinks two years ago.

Its recommendations included limiting single-dose containers to 80 mg of caffeine and referring to them as “stimulant drug containing drinks.”

It also wanted to restrict their sale to pharmacies.

By: Carys Mills Staff Reporter, Published on Mon Dec 31 2012