Pushed by growing concerns from health groups about the adverse medical affects of the products, the department said the paper had been put together to offer “policy guidance” on the issue.
“Since [the government last looked at the issue, in 2003], the number and variety of products containing caffeine on the market has increased.
“There is some public concern that this increase in the range of products may be associated with increased dietary exposure to caffeine and that increased dietary exposure may have implications for individual and population health,” the paper said.
It also pointed out that there is a concern that current guidelines are ambiguous and lack clarity, and as such it may not provide adequate guidance for regulators to manage the risks involved with caffeine in the food supply.
Under the current food code, caffeine is expressly permitted in restricted amounts for use in cola-type beverages as a food additive, and in formulated caffeinated beverages sold in Australia and New Zealand. These are required to have labelling to advise that they are not safe for children or pregnant women.
“The purpose of this consultation paper is to establish if the guideline needs to be updated, maintained or rescinded in order to provide FSANZ with appropriate guidance to assist in the development or review of food standards relating to caffeine in food,” it said.
Caffeinated energy drinks have been in the news over the last couple of years for all the wrong reasons, with caffeine overdoses becoming associated with health conditions like obesity and dental issues. At the same time, its consumption has spiralled.
According to research firm IbisWorld, energy drinks are the fastest-growing product in an otherwise flat soft drink sector, and account for 6.7% of the entire market.
“Energy drinks such as Red Bull and V have obvious appeal to kids but can contain as much caffeine as a cup of coffee. Even small amounts of caffeine can make kids anxious and disturb their sleep patterns,” said a statement from Choice, a consumer advocacy group. “Many of these drinks are also loaded with sugar, which most of us can do without.”
There is also the issue of young teens mixing their energy drinks with alcohol. Last year, the state of Victoria began mulling a ban on such drinks after the death of 16-year-old Sara Milosevic, who died in June 2011 after she consumed three cans of a caffeinated alcoholic beverage containing vodka, soda and guarana.
In late 2012, a study by researchers at the University of Tasmania revealed that youngsters who mix alcohol and energy drinks experience significant negative physical and psychological effects. According to the research, mixing the two beverages types was associated with heart palpitations, sleep difficulties, agitation and tremors.
However, the paper highlighted that the issue of mixing alcohol with energy drinks will be outside the scope of this review. “It is being investigated separately by the Intergovernmental Committee on Drugs.”