F.D.A.’s Taylor: Adding caffeine to products a ‘potentially dangerous path’

by Keith Nunes
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WASHINGTON – In a question-and-answer interview published by the Food and Drug Administration regarding the agency’s recent announcement it is investigating the health effects of caffeine added to food and beverage products, Michael Taylor, deputy commissioner of food and veterinary medicine, called such efforts “a dubious, potentially dangerous path.”

In response to a question about the possibility of new regulations being introduced, Mr. Taylor said, “If necessary, and if the science indicates that it is warranted, we are prepared to go through the regulatory process to establish clear boundaries and conditions on caffeine use,” he said. “We are also prepared to consider enforcement action against individual products as appropriate.

“However, we hope this can be a turning point for all to prevent the irresponsible addition of caffeine to food and beverages. Together, we should be immediately looking at what voluntary restraint can be used by industry as F.D.A. gets the right regulatory boundaries and conditions in place.

“I'm hopeful that industry will step up.”

The interview was published by the F.D.A. May 3 as part of its consumer outreach efforts. The agency announced April 29 it would take a “fresh look” at the potential impact of the new and easy sources of caffeine on health, particularly children and adolescents. The agency made the announcement shortly after the Wm. Wrigley Jr. Co., a business unit of Mars, Inc., announced the introduction of Alert Energy, a caffeinated gum.

“The gum is just one more unfortunate example of the trend to add caffeine to food,” Mr. Taylor said in the interview. “Our concern is about caffeine appearing in a range of new products, including ones that may be attractive and readily available to children and adolescents, without careful consideration of their cumulative impact.

“One pack of this gum is like having four cups of coffee in your pocket. Caffeine is even being added to jelly beans, marshmallows, sunflower seeds and other snacks for its stimulant effect.

“Meanwhile, energy drinks with caffeine are being aggressively marketed, including to young people. An instant oatmeal on the market boasts that one serving has as much caffeine as a cup of coffee, and then there are similar products, such as a so-called ‘wired’ waffle and ‘wired’ syrup with added caffeine.

“The proliferation of these products in the marketplace is very disturbing to us.”

Mr. Taylor said the first step in the F.D.A.’s review process will be to review the potential consequences of caffeinated products in the food supply to children and to some adults who may be at risk from excess caffeine consumption. He said the agency needs to better understand caffeine consumption and use patterns.

“We’ve already met with some companies to hear their rationale for adding caffeine to varied products and to express our concern,” Mr. Taylor said. “We’ve also reached out to the American Beverage Association, which represents the nonalcoholic beverage industry, and the Grocery Manufacturers Association, which represents food, beverage and consumer-products companies.”

Mr. Taylor added that the development and enforcement of age restrictions for the consumption of products that feature added caffeine would be challenging. Instead, he said, “For me, the more fundamental questions are whether it is appropriate to use foods that may be inherently attractive and accessible to children as the vehicles to deliver the stimulant caffeine, and whether we should place limits on the amount of caffeine in certain products.”
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