Appeals Court rules against NBC over Fanta, Sprite labeling requirement

The Nigerian Bottling Company (“NBC”), bottlers of the famed Coca-Cola products in Nigeria suffered a legal setback in its bid to stop the execution of a judgement by a Lagos High Court which declared Fanta and Sprite to be poisonous soft drinks when consumed with vitamin C.

In a judgement delivered on February 15, a 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 February 15 judgement was based on a case brought before the Lagos High Court by a Lagos businessman, Dr. Emmanuel Fijabi Adebo of Fijabi Adebo Holdings Ltd against NBC and NAFDAC.

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.

In the appeal courts judgement, the presiding judge, Justice Oyebanji said, that contrary to the argument presented by the NBC that its business interest would be harmed if the order was not stayed, it is important to consider the preservation of human life, the judge said.

The business interest of Nigeria Bottling Company cannot, in my respected view take precedent over public health.

It is beyond argument that if the application for stay is granted and human health is consequently adversely affected, it is most unlikely that there can indeed be a return to status quo. It is imperative to add the resultant effect of the order sought to be stayed is the preservation of human life, the business interest of Nigeria Bottling Company cannot in my respected view take precedent over public health.

Accordingly, Nigeria Bottling Company‘s application for stay of execution fails and it is hereby dismissed,” Justice Oyebanji held.

However, the judge ordered conditional stay of execution of N2 million cost awarded against the National Agency for Food and Drug Administration and Control (NAFDAC). The judge gave orders for the regulatory agency to pay the said amount into an interest yielding account in the name of the Chief Registrar of the court pending the hearing and the determination of the appeal by NAFDAC.

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