Court orders NAFDAC to compel NBC to warn consumers against drinking Fanta, Sprite with Vitamin C

A Lagos High court in Igbosere, on Monday ordered the National Agency for Food, Drug Administration and Control (NAFDAC) to compel the Nigerian Bottling Company Limited (“NBC”), producers of Fanta and Sprite soft drinks to include health warnings on its label which says that the drinks cannot be taken with Vitamin C.

According to a report in The Nation Newspaper, Justice Adedayo Oyebanji made the order while delivering a judgement on a case brought before it by a Lagos businessman, Dr. Emmanuel Fijabi Adebo of Fijabi Adebo Holdings Ltd against NBC and NAFDAC.

In the case, the court ruled in favour of the claimant, Fijabi Adebo, awarding him the sum of N2m against NAFDAC for failing “to live up to expectations”. The court also warned that taking Fanta and Sprite with vitamin C is poisonous.

The court declared that the regulatory agency failed the citizens of Nigeria by its certification as satisfactory for human consumption products which in the United Kingdom (UK) failed sample test for human consumption and which became poisonous in the presence of Ascorbic Acid ordinarily known as vitamin C, which can be freely taken by unsuspecting members of the public with Fanta and Sprite.

Mr. Adebo had urged the court to declare that Nigerian Bottling Company was negligent and breached the duty of care owed to its customers and consumers in the production of what it argued was contaminated Fanta and Sprite soft drinks with excessive “benzoic acid and sunset” addictive.

The claimant urged the court to instruct NAFDAC to perform routine laboratory analysis of all soft drinks and allied products of NBC to ensure and guarantee the safety of the consumable products, produced at its factories.

Mr. Adebo’s council, Mr. Abiodun Onidare in an amended statement of claim alleged that in March 2007, Fijabi Adebo Holdings purchased large quantities of Coca-Cola, Fanta Orange, Sprite, Fanta Lemon, Fanta Pineapple and Soda Water from the Nigerian Bottling Company for export to the UK, meant to be retailed to its customers in the UK.

However, when the consignment of soft drinks arrived in the UK, they failed UK Health Authorities sample test for human consumption which were carried out by the Stockport Metropolitan Borough Council’s Trading Standards Department of Environmental and Economy Directorate. Fanta and Sprite were said to become poisonous when mixed with Ascorbic Acid (Vitamin C).

The claimants demanded N15m as special damages and N1.6m being the money NBC admitted it received as sales from the claimant.

However, NBC in its amended defense filed by its lawyer, Mr. T.O. Busari admitted selling the products to the claimant but contended that the products manufactured by the company were meant for local distribution and consumption in Nigeria and not for export.

It denied being negligent in the manufacturing of its products as alleged noting that the company maintains stringent quality control procedures in its production process to ensure its products were safe for consumption.

The company denied that the damage alleged by the claimant were as a result of its negligence as the level of chemical components in its soft drinks is safe for consumption in Nigeria.

NAFDAC did not file any defense.

In her judgement, Justice Oyebanji said: “It is imperative to state that the knowledge of the Nigerian Bottling Company that the products were to be exported is immaterial to its being fit for human consumption. The court is in absolute agreement with the learned counsel for the claimants that soft drinks manufactured by Nigeria Bottling Company ought to be fit for human consumption irrespective of colour or creed.

“It is manifest that NAFDAC has been grossly irresponsible in its regulatory duties to the consumers of Fanta and Sprite manufactured by Nigerian Bottling Company. In my respective view, NAFDAC has failed the citizens of this great nation by its certification as satisfactory for human consumption, products which in the United Kingdom failed sample test for human consumption and which become poisonous in the presence of Ascorbic Acid ordinarily known as Vitamin C, which can be freely taken by the unsuspecting public with the company’s Fanta or Sprite.

“The court, in the light of the damning evidence before it, shows that NAFDAC has failed to live up to expectations, cannot close its eyes to the grievous implication of allowing the status quo to continue as it is.

“For the reasons herein adumbrated in this judgement, the court hereby orders as follows:

“That NAFDAC shall forthwith mandate Nigerian Bottling Company to, within 90 days hereof, include on all the bottles of Fanta and Sprite soft drinks manufactured by the company, a written warning that the content of the said bottles of Fanta and Sprite soft drinks cannot be taken with Vitamin C as same becomes poisonous if taken with Vitamin C.

“In consideration of the fact that this case was filed in 2008 and that it has been in court for nine years, costs of N2 million is awarded against NAFDAC. Interest shall be paid on the costs awarded at the rate of 10% per annum until liquidation of the said sum.”

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