African Court Rules Coca-Cola Products Could Be 'Poisonous'

Posted On: 3/31/2017

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TAGS: Coke in Nigeria, Coca-Cola Co., Lagos High Court, Sprite, Fanta, benzoic acid, sunset yellow, Nigerian Bottling Co.

LAGOS, Nigeria -- A court in Nigeria recently ruled that some Coca-Cola beverages have the potential to be "poisonous." A Lagos High Court judge said that Sprite and Fanta contain such high levels of preservative benzoic acid and artificial coloring "sunset yellow" (FD&C Yellow 6 in the U.S.) that they could pose a health risk to consumers when mixed with vitamin C.

Sunset yellow reportedly can form the carcinogen benzene when combined with vitamin C, according to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.

The judge ordered Nigerian Bottling Co. (NBC), the only Coca-Cola bottler in Nigeria, to put written warnings on its bottles of Sprite and Fanta warning consumers against drinking the sodas with vitamin C. He also ordered Nigeria's National Agency for Food and Drug Administration and Control (NAFDAC) to pay a 2 million naira penalty ($6,350) for failing to follow health procedures.

The ruling stems from a lawsuit filed by Nigerian businessman Emmanuel Fijabi Adebo against NAFDAC and NBC. Adebo's company, Fijabi Adebo Holdings Ltd., purchased beverages from NBC and attempted to export them to the UK in 2007, but authorities confiscated and disposed of the beverages after finding that the products contained excessive levels of sunset yellow and benzoic acid.

Both Fanta and Sprite have benzoic levels of 200 mg/kg which is lower than the Nigerian regulatory limit of 250 mg/kg, according to NBC, whose lawyers argued that the products were not intended for export. But that defense was rejected by the judge.

NBC and NAFDAC are appealing the ruling, arguing that benzoic acid and ascorbic acid are approved by international food safety regulators for use in food and beverage products around the world.

Coca Cola refuted that claim and said in a statement: "Recent claims that Coca-Cola Co.'s Fanta and Sprite beverages are unfit for consumption when combined with vitamin C are inaccurate and unsupported by science. All our products are safe and strictly adhere to regulations in the countries where they are sold while complying with our company's stringent global safety and quality standards."