Senators Again Press FDA to Regulate Energy Drinks

Two leading U.S. Senators have again asked the Food and Drug Administration to address their concerns over the safety of increasingly popular energy drinks, specifically the effect high amounts of caffeine and other ingredients have on the body.

According to a report this week, Sens. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) and Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) have petitioned FDA Commissioner Margaret Hamburg to issue more detailed information on the safety of energy drinks and to address their concerns on their effect on public health. The Senators earlier this year had made a similar request of Hamburg but were left wanting more when the Commissioner eventually responded.

In a letter addressed to Hamburg this week, the Senators say “Your letter did not address one of our greatest concerns, which included the potential interactions and cumulative effects of additives with stimulant properties in energy drinks with high levels of caffeine.  We ask FDA to provide additional information on the safety of multiple additives with stimulating properties in energy drinks when used in combination and with caffeine.”

In the last few years, the soft drink market has been inundated by a wide array of beverages claiming to be energy drinks. These drinks are often sold in smaller cans and feature high amounts of caffeine and other ingredients that purportedly have health benefits to consumers but the Senators echo a growing public concern that these drinks pose serious risks, not benefits, especially to younger people.

The top-selling energy drink in the U.S. currently is known as Monster, sold in tall 16-ounce cans right alongside other ordinary soft drinks at nearly every retail location in the country. Sales have topped in the billions of dollars in the last few years and keep increasing. Other popular energy drinks include RedBull and Amp. Energy drinks, although they’re sold right next to other soft drinks, do not fall under the same regulatory umbrella as those beverages. The FDA has no power over controlling the amount of caffeine found in energy drinks, as they do with regular soft drinks.

Durbin and Blumenthal believe the FDA’s first effort in assessing the health risks posed by energy drinks does not address the entire problem. Instead of just looking at how they affect “healthy adults,” the lawmakers believe the agency must go further in its research and determine how consuming high amounts of caffeine can affect younger drinkers.

They also believe the FDA glossed over the effects of certain ingredients common in energy drinks, ginseng, guarana, and taurine, which the agency considers safe when added for flavoring. The Senators believe that these ingredients have a larger role in energy drink formulas and likely have an impact on a person’s health.

In their letter, the Senators say, “We ask you to explain how the Agency determines that taurine and guarana when used at varying concentrations are added to energy drinks for flavoring uses as opposed to non-flavoring uses, such as providing a stimulating effect.  The front of Red Bull cans feature taurine prominently on the label next to “vitalized body and mind.”  The placement and prominence of taurine on the label may suggest the additive is used for non-flavor purposes.  We ask FDA to provide additional information on the safety of multiple additives with stimulating properties in energy drinks when used in combination and with caffeine.”

Overall, the FDA’s initial response to their original request has left many questions unanswered. Nearly half of all people under the age of 18 say they have tried energy drinks at least once and based on sales, many are regular drinkers.

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