The Vice-Chancellor of the Benson Idahosa University, Edo State, Prof. Ernest Izevbigie, has challenged the Federal Ministry of Health claims that Fanta and Sprite, both products of the Nigerian Bottling Company (“NBC”) are safe for human consumption.
Prof. Izevbigie, who spoke at a media parley in Benin City, said that the Health Ministry’s claims did not fully address the safety raised by the court ruling.
A Lagos high Court had instructed the National Agency for Food and Drug Administration and Control (NAFDAC) to compel the NBC to insert a written warning on its products that Fanta and Sprite could not be consumed with Vitamin C.
The Health Ministry had released a statement on 18 March, 2017 proclaiming Fanta and Sprite to be safe for human consumption, citing as evidence a routine inspection carried out by NAFDAC at NBC facilities in December 2016 as being satisfactory.
However, the ministry instructed NBC and other soft drinks manufacturers in the country to include advisory warning on their products to protect the health of Nigerians.
In his rebuttal, the University Don said that the Health Ministry failed to address the usage of the colourant, Sunset Yellow, which he said has no nutritional value and also belong to a chemical class of azo dye, which could be toxic to different cells in the human body and create problems.
“Although azo dyes do not occur in nature, they are metabolizable due to the presence of azoreductase enzymes in the body, which reduce the azo group to produce two compounds with amino groups.
“Scientific literature shows that sunset yellow is implicated in cytotoxicity, carcinogenesis, allergies and hyperactivity in three to nine-year-old children.”
The VC, who is also a professor of biology and biochemistry, added that benzoic acid, a microbial preservative used in drinks, were almost twice the amount used in neigbouring Ghana and could be converted to benzene, “a known compound that causes cancer”.
Izevbigie noted that the whole point of the advisory warning given by the Health Ministry to NBC was counterproductive if the said drinks (Fanta and Sprite) already contained Vitamin C in the form of Ascorbic acid.
“You are telling me not to take these products with Vitamin C but you already have Vitamin C in it. It seems to me that the purpose of the advisory warning is already defeated.”
The prof urged the regulatory agency, NAFDAC to live up to its responsibility in scientific research and regulation, adding that the issue of human safety must be placed before profit.
“There should be a reduction of benzoic acid or sodium benzoate concentration to below 150 milligrams per kilogramme, as recommended by the World Health Organisation and is obtainable in the UK that has a low temperature than Nigeria and Ghana which has the same climatic condition as Nigeria.
“Vitamin C should be removed as an ingredient in Fanta due to concerns raised from benzene toxicity; the use of natural dye could be considered, for example, beta-carotene, as is done for the NBC product, 5 Alive Pulpy Orange,” he said.