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Indian state charges Red Bull over caffeine content; court battle looms

By Ankush Chibber , 02-Apr-2012

Austrian energy drink leader Red Bull Gmbh has run into rough weather in India with a state level food regulator, which claims to have confiscated 1.6 million cans of the drink over caffeine content.

A spokesperson of the Maharashtra Food and Drug Administration (MFDA), said it had seized the product because caffeine content in the energy drink was between 250ppm (parts per million) and 300ppm.

According to the laws framed by the Food Safety and Standards Authority of India (FSSAI), the maximum permissible caffeine content in carbonated beverages is 145ppm, but it also exempts energy drinks as they are classed as food items, not carbonated beverages.

As per court documents accessed by FoodNavigator-Asia, the Madras High Court previously ruled that as the FSSAI has not formulated new standards for energy drinks, Red Bull, which is a proprietary food, did not need to conform to the standards for carbonated drinks.

Local regulators acting 'rogue'

“Unfortunately for Red Bull, the local regulators are not heeding to the line of the court or following the hierarchical order. The ball is in the FSSAI’s court now. Once it issues standards, energy drink makers would have a line to toe,” an industry observer said.

He said he expects Red Bull to take on the MFDA legally, citing the Madras High Court Order, that in its interpretation forbids regulators treating energy drinks as carbonated drinks.

However, it does not look as if MFDA is ready to buy that argument. Talking to local media, MFDA commissioner Mahesh Zagade said: “Manufacturers claim it’s an energy drink and not a carbonated drink. But when you open a Red Bull can, there's fizz and it contains carbon dioxide. We are preparing for legal battle.”

Red Bull baulks at seizure 

Red Bull issued a statement to FoodNavigator-Asia, saying it fully complies with the local laws and regulations of more than 164 countries, including India.

“A 250ml can of Red Bull contains the same amount of caffeine as a cup of coffee [80 mg or 320ppm]. The Indian health authorities have repeatedly confirmed that Red Bull Energy Drink conforms to Indian laws and regulations,” it said.

“We are surprised by the recent approach of FDA Maharashtra, as it appears to be in conflict with that of the Indian national authorities,” the statement said.

Gap analysis

Two years ago, the state of Tamil Nadu also seized cans of Red Bull, as it was violating the caffeine content standards for carbonated beverages.

Red Bull went to court at that time. In its original form, the Food Safety and Standard Act of 2006 had stated that all drinks containing caffeine should follow the rules applicable to carbonated beverages.

 

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