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Tories cap caffeine in energy drinks

Will now be regulated as food products

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OTTAWA -- The federal government is capping the amount of caffeine energy drinks can contain, Health Minister Leona Aglukkaq announced Thursday.

Speaking at a University of Ottawa sports complex, Aglukkaq explained it is one of several steps the government is taking to address concerns about such popular caffeinated beverages as Red Bull, Rockstar and Monster.

The government has decided to regulate energy drinks as a food product -- instead of as natural health products or a drug. It's the move Aglukkaq said makes the most sense, given that consumers tend to think of consumer energy drinks not as health products but as soft drinks.

Until now, energy drinks have been classified as a natural health product, so companies have not had been obliged to include a table of nutritional facts, or other ingredient information, on each can.

The new measures will allow consumers to make more informed decisions and reduce the chances of over-consumption of caffeine and other vitamins found in the beverages, Aglukkaq said.

"I firmly believe that it's up to individuals and parents to make their own decisions when it comes to what they eat and drink," said Aglukkaq. "Today's announcement will ensure that parents have the information to make the best choice for themselves and their families."

Companies, meanwhile, will have to provide regular updates to Health Canada about any consumer-health complaints associated with their products. They would also be required to submit to Health Canada more detailed information on consumption and sales of energy drinks, so the department can determine if additional safety requirements are needed.

This is a highly unusual step for products regulated as a food. Only raw-milk cheese is currently required to provide this type of data to Health Canada.

Health Canada is also "directing" the industry to stamp out marketing campaigns that could promote the unsafe consumption of their products, hinting tougher action could follow if unsavoury practices aren't stamped out.

Energy drinks are formulated for adults and are not recommended for children and teens, but youthful marketing campaigns and event sponsorships have helped attract young people to the brands.

By strengthening its code of practice, the industry "will show parents and the general public that they are serious about addressing issues around marketing and sampling of energy drinks to children and teens."

The decision to regulate the beverages as a food, while aligning Canada with its major trading partners, including the United States and Europe, puts Health Canada in direct opposition to its own panel of experts on energy drinks. The department convened the panel last fall to provide advice on the best way to mitigate safety concerns about the caffeinated beverages.

The panel, which submitted its recommendation to the government last November, said energy drinks should be classified as drugs and pulled from convenience and grocery stores, where they are sold alongside sports drinks, juices and pop.

Although available without a prescription, drugs classified as Schedule III under the National Association of Pharmacy Regulatory Authorities -- as the expert panel proposed for energy drinks -- are sold on shelves of a pharmacy under the direct supervision of a pharmacist.

"This would more formally signal to the general public that these are drug products, not foods," the panel concluded, emphasizing it preferred the status quo to classifying the beverages as a food product if this proposal was rejected.

"Health Canada, at a minimum, maintains stimulant drug containing drinks in the category of natural health products and not move them to foods due to the significant drug effects of the caffeine added to these products. This is recommended regardless of how other countries have chosen to deal with these products."

But Health Canada accepted the panel's suggestion of caffeine caps, although the levels are higher than proposed.

The concentration cap will be 400 milligrams per litre -- the equivalent of Health Canada's maximum daily recommended caffeine intake for children. (By comparison, cola cans are permitted to contain 200 milligrams per litre. The panel had recommended a cap of 320 ml per litre)

The new cap for energy drinks will be 180 mg of caffeine in a single serving -- considered any containers that can't be resealed, such as a can no matter how big, or any resealable container that is 591 ml or less. (The panel recommended 80 mg of caffeine per dose, but did not clarify whether a dose was defined a can that can't be sealed).

This is equivalent to approximately what can be found in a medium coffee.

-- Postmedia News

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition October 7, 2011 A18

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