Two months after the Consumer Protection Council reported alarming levels of benzoic acid in Mirinda and Lucozade drinks, Nigerian government regulators responsible for taking action have kept mum and have done nothing about it.
The CPC had in April revealed that the benzoic levels in the two drinks were above the regulatory standard of 250mg/k.
It called for the review of the acid content in both drinks after investigating safety concerns raised by consumers on Fanta, Sprite and selected soft drinks in the country.
But months after that warning, neither the Standards Organisation of Nigeria, nor the National Agency for Food and Drug Administration and Control, NAFDAC, both responsible for ensuring health standards are maintained, have acted.
The SON could not confirm it had taken action to protect the public.
A spokesperson, Bola Fashina, merely told PREMIUM TIMES the issue of benzoic acid was a “standard issue”.
“The standard in Nigeria is usually reviewed every five years and there must be a reason for any standard to be changed and even the CPC takes part in this review,” said Mr. Fashina, who is the Special Assistant to the organisation’s Director General.
He also said “NAFDAC, SON, CPC and manufacturers of these products are all part of the standard review” and that “In the case of soft drinks, the minimum requirement for Nigeria is set out and it is for all soft drinks”.
Sister agency, NAFDAC, did not respond to requests for comment.
The agency’s director for Special Duties/Media, Jimoh Abubakar, did not pick or return calls to his phone, and did not respond to text messages and letters.
The CPC said it had done its job by investigating and reporting the violations, and that it was left for other agencies to take action.
The council’s investigation was in reaction to a judgement by a Lagos State High Court in a suit between Fijabi Adebo Holdings Limited and Emmanuel Fijabi Adebo against the Nigerian Bottling Company Ltd, and the National Agency for Food and Drug Administration and Control.
The plaintiff had alleged that Fanta Orange and Sprite produced by the bottling company in Nigeria were hazardous due to their incompatibility with the Benzoic acid standards in the United Kingdom.
Mr. Adebo’s company had tried to export Fanta and Sprite bottled in Nigeria to the UK, but British authorities seized and destroyed the products for containing excess levels of benzoic acid and sunset additives which made them not fit for consumption.
However, the Minister of Health, Isaac Adewole, certified both drinks safe for consumption in Nigeria but warned that they should not be taken with any drug.
The council however called for further investigation following the discovery that the benzoic acid in Mirinda was up to 330mg/kg and that of Lucozade was up to 323.53mg/kg.
Benzoic acid is a white, crystalline powder with a faint, non-offensive odour.
Though it is used as a preservative, it can cause cancer if used excessively and has been linked to asthma problems and increased levels of hyperactivity in children.
Benzoic acid is also used to manufacture a wide variety of products such as perfumes, dyes, topical medications and insect repellents.
The findings by CPC are in line with those of a recent research by Nigerian scholars titled “Levels of Benzoic Acid, Sulphur (IV) Oxide and Sorbic Acid in Carbonated Drinks Sold in Lagos, Nigeria”.
The research was conducted by Onwordi C.T, Chemistry Department, Lagos State University; Olarenwaju A.J, Environmental and Nano sciences group, Chemistry Department, University of the Western Cape, Cape Town, South Africa; Wuse A.D, Biochemistry Department, Lagos State University and Oguntade B.K, Department of science laboratory technology. Federal polytechnic Ilaro, Ogun State.
It showed that 71.4 per cent of carbonated drinks samples analysed had benzoic acid level above the stipulated limits.