Energy drinks under review

A spate of deaths in the United States linked to a highly caffeinated energy drink will be examined as part of a transtasman review that could mean caffeine levels in such drinks are lowered here.

Two nutrition experts have called for the review to be hastened, with one calling energy drinks "dangerous stuff".

The US Food and Drug Administration launched an inquiry into the safety of the highly caffeinated Monster Energy drinks after reports of five deaths.

Ministers responsible for transtasman food and beverage regulation last year launched a full review of the policy guideline on caffeine, including the amount in energy drinks.

The transtasman Food Regulation Standing Committee caffeine working group is looking at global developments in caffeinated products and regulatory approaches.

Its review could result in the New Zealand Government lowering the present caffeine limit.

The review, which will propose various options for amendments to the policy guideline, is due to be discussed next year.

Monster Beverage, a US top seller and major player in the burgeoning New Zealand energy drinks market, contains no more caffeine than most of its rivals.

Monster and other energy drinks, including Red Bull, Mother, and Demon, all contain the maximum 32mg caffeine per 100ml allowed under the food standards code.

AUT professor of nutrition Elaine Rush said so much about energy drinks was not known.

"It's not a natural part of our food chain. It's assumed that it's safe but everyone seems to react differently to it."

She was particularly concerned with how long it was taking for the review to happen.

"I'm very concerned, particularly about the aggressive marketing. It's almost like pushing a drug. Branding is very powerful."

Clinical nutrition expert and spokeswoman for Dietitians New Zealand Cathy Khouri urged the review to make its recommendations "sooner rather than later".

But she warned against introducing age restrictions or enforcing reduced caffeine levels on drink manufacturers.

"I'm in two minds about a heavy-handed approach. There will be other things children of that age will have to decide about ... I'd like them to be able to make informed choices and walk past these drinks in supermarkets and think it's not such a healthy choice.

"Caffeine rates in children, along with obesity and overweight rates, are multi-levelled issues which need looking at in several ways."

Ms Khouri, a University of Otago tutor, said the energy drinks industry was "serious big business" which was targeting youngsters with "cool" advertising campaigns like the smoking industry did in the 1950s.

"It is dangerous stuff and we need to act now," she said.

She hoped the review would lead to the drinks being banned in schools, the introduction of healthy sports stars as role models, and the lowering of "huge" portion sizes. Monster, sold for about $3 per 500ml can, contains 160mg of caffeine per can - more than five times what is in a 330ml cola can and double a small cup of coffee.

Ministry for Primary Industries officials have warned that when taken in high doses, caffeine can lead to irritability, anxiety, dizziness, tremors, and insomnia.

Caffeine comparison
• Monster: 32mg per 100ml.
• Mother: 32mg per 100ml.
• Demon: 32mg per 100ml.
• Pure Energy: 32mg per 100ml.
• NOS High Octane Energy: 32mg per 100ml.
• Red Bull: 32mg per 100ml.
• V: 31 mg per 100ml.
• Lift Plus: 14.5mg per 100ml.

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