NAFDAC, NBC appeal court ruling on new Fanta-Sprite labeling requirement

The National Agency for Food and Drug Administration and Control (NAFDAC) and the Nigerian Bottling Company (“NBC”) have appealed a Lagos High Court judgement which required that NBC put a health warning label on its Fanta and Sprite brands informing consumers that consuming the products with Vitamin C was poisonous.

The Director-General, NAFDAC, Mrs. Yetunde Oni, said that the agency had filed an appeal against the judgement and a motion to stay its execution.

“NAFDAC is a national regulatory authority and will react both scientifically and legally to the matter. Our lawyer has filed an appeal and a motion to stay execution of action of the judgment,” the DG stated.

The counsel representing the Nigerian Bottling Company (NBC), Mr. Olatunde Busari (SAN), said that the company had appealed the judgement, with the soft drinks company declaring, that the said soft drinks were produced in compliance with national and international food quality and safety standards in the country.

“In the judgement delivered on February 15, 2017, the Lagos High Court dismissed all claims against the NBC and held that the company had not breached its duty of care to consumers and that there was no proven case of negligence against it.

“In the same judgement, the court directed NAFDAC to mandate the NBC to include a warning on its bottles of Fanta and Sprite that its contents cannot be taken with Vitamin C as it could be poisonous. This order was premised on the fact that the products contain the preservative, benzoic acid. The NBC has since appealed this order.”

According to the company, the levels of benzoic and ascorbic acid in the drinks are approved by the regulatory agencies in the country.

“In the subject case, which dates back to 2007, the UK authorities confiscated a consignment of our products shipped to that country by the plaintiff, because their benzoic acid levels were not within the UK national level although well within the levels approved by both the national regulators for Nigeria and the international levels set by CODEX, the joint intergovernmental body responsible for harmonising food standards globally.

“The UK limits benzoic acid in soft drinks to a maximum of 150mg/kg. Both Fanta and Sprite have benzoic levels of 200mg/kg, which is lower than the Nigerian regulatory limit of 250mg/kg when combined with ascorbic acid, and 300mg/kg without ascorbic acid, and also lower than the 600mg/kg international limit set by CODEX.

“Both benzoic acid and ascorbic acid, also known as Vitamin C, are ingredients approved by international food safety regulators and used in many food and beverage products around the world.

“These two ingredients are also used in combination in some of these products within levels, which may differ from one country to another as approved by the respective national food and drug regulators, and in line with the range prescribed by CODEX.

“The permissible ingredient levels set by countries for their food and beverage products are influenced by a number of factors such as climate, an example being the UK, a temperate region, requiring lower preservative levels unlike tropical countries,” it added.

“Given the fact that the benzoic and ascorbic acid levels in Fanta as well as the benzoic acid level in Sprite produced and sold by the NBC in Nigeria are in compliance with the levels approved by all relevant national regulators and the international level set by CODEX, there is no truth in the report that these products would become poisonous if consumed alongside Vitamin C,” Busari said.

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