Fact sheet on the Fanta, Sprite and Benzoic Acid controversy


Fanta and Sprite, two of Nigeria’s favourite beverage brands, have been bottled and sold in this country since 1960 and 1961 respectively. Over the years, Fanta and Sprite have become not only household names but also favourite refreshments for personal and family treats and an essential part of every celebration of milestones as we journey through Life. In all these years, both brands have remained true to the promise of quality and consumer safety. Outlined below are the facts on the current controversy over levels of Benzoic preservatives in Fanta and Sprite produced and sold by Nigerian Bottling Company Limited (NBC) relative to the regulatory limits in the UK:

1. Benzoic Acid is a globally certified food preservative used across the world
Benzoic acid is a colourless crystalline solid. It is the simplest aromatic carboxylic acid. It occurs naturally free and bound as benzoic acid esters in many animal and plant species. Significant amounts have been found in some fruits -­ especially berries -­ as well as in yogurt, certain spices and honey. Most berries contain around 500mg/kg. It is rapidly absorbed from the gastrointestinal tract of mammals and conjugated with glycine in the liver. The resulting hippuric acid is excreted in the urine rapidly (75% to 100% of the dose is excreted within 6 hours;; the remaining dose is excreted within 2 to 3 days). Benzoic acid is approved by International Food Safety regulators as well as national regulators as a preservative and used in many food and beverage products in approved measures around the world. It is very effective against moulds, yeasts and bacteria. It is particularly well-­suited for use in soft drinks, such as carbonated, still and juice beverages because it works best between pH levels of 2?4. The composition of these beverages therefore has an effect on its efficiency and suitability for use.

2. Benzoic Acid is used widely in food, beverage, cosmetic and pharmaceutical products
Benzoic preservative is widely used across the world in various food and beverage products as well as in cosmetic and pharmaceutical products in line with standards approved by international and respective national regulators for those products. The table below shows the permissible benzoic limits for some food and beverage products under Codex Alimentarius Commission (Codex) and Nigeria national regulations:

Food and Beverage Product Benzoic Standard (mg/kg) CODEX Nigeria
Jams, Jellies, Marmalades 1000 1000
Chocolate products 1500 1500
Custard (Egg based deserts) 1000 1000
Margarine and similar products 1000 1000
Cereal and starch based desserts 1000 1000
Wines 1000 1000
Chewing gum 1500 1500
Water-­based flavoured drinks, including “sport,” “energy” or “electrolyte” drinks and particulated drinks
600 250 with Ascorbic Acid
Flavoured Yogurt 300 300
Malt drinks 600 350

3. The regulatory limits on the use of Benzoic Acid as a preservative in carbonated soft drinks vary from one country to another
At the global level, internationally recognized standards, codes of practice and guidelines relating to foods, food production and food safety are set by Codex established for that purpose by the United Nations through the Food and Agriculture Organization and the World Health Organization (WHO). For Benzoic acid in carbonated soft drinks, the standard or permissible limit set by Codex was 600mg/kg until recently reviewed to 250mg/kg in 2016 (CODEX STAN 192?1995 revised 2015 and 2016) and ratified in March 2017.

At the country level, national regulators are at liberty to set their respective permissible limits guided by the Codex standard, and taking into consideration their environmental (and other) factors. With respect to Nigeria, the Standards Organisation of Nigeria (SON), in consultation with technical experts and relevant stakeholders, set the standard of benzoic acid in soft drinks that contain no Ascorbic acid (Vitamin C), such as Sprite, to be at 250mg/kg; and 300mg/kg for soft drinks that contain Ascorbic acid, such as Fanta. This standard has been in existence since 1997 and was revised in 2008. (NIS 217:2008)
The permissible standard for Benzoic preservatives in carbonated soft drinks set by EU regulations and applicable in the UK is 150mg/kg. The respective national standards vary widely among countries, with some (such as the US and Canada) exceeding the limit set by Codex, as shown in the table below:
Country Benzoic Standards (mg/kg)
European Union, including the UK 150
Nigeria 250
South Africa 400
Argentina 500
Australia 400
Brazil 500
Canada 1000
China 200
Japan 600
Mexico 600
United States of America 1000

4. The Benzoic levels found in the consignment of Fanta and Sprite that the claimant attempted to export to the UK in 2007 were compliant with both the global and Nigerian regulatory limits
As confirmed by the evidence tendered in court by the claimant and restated in the public statement issued by the Federal Ministry of Health on 17th March 2017, the levels of benzoic acid in the consignment are as follows: Fanta (1 batch) -­ 188.64 mg/kg;; and Sprite (2 batches) -­ 201.06mg/kg and 161.5mg/kg respectively. These were well within the permissible benzoic preservative levels in Nigeria for both products, and were therefore safe for consumption.

5. The UK Custom authorities did not describe the seized consignment of Fanta and Sprite from Nigeria
Neither the certificate of analysis obtained by the UK authorities nor the letter from the authorities informing the claimant of the test results classified the products as the documents simply stated that the benzoic levels in the products were in excess of the UK-­permissible limits, and therefore non-­compliant with EU regulations. Notably, in a letter to the claimant dated 11th April 2007, the StockPort Metropolitan Borough Council Trading Standards Officer, Gareth Hollingsworth, said see attached certificates of analysis and letters from the Trading Standards Officer to the claimant.

6. The consignment of Fanta and Sprite from Nigeria were not allowed into the UK simply because the UK has a different Benzoic standard than Nigeria
Every country has the prerogative to set and enforce permissible standards for products made within (or entering into) its borders. In the case of the products in question (Fanta and Sprite shipped from Nigeria), they were not allowed in the UK simply because, although compliant with the standards of the country of origin and with the international Codex standard, they were non-­compliant with the EU/UK regulation. None of the products was adjudged by the UK authorities to be unfit for human consumption as represented to the court, the media and the public. Further, there is no evidence to the assertion that the products were destroyed by the UK authorities.

7. NBC does not produce for export;; its products are produced within the guidelines of the Nigerian Industrial Standards which are in conformity with global food safety standards
NBC is a Coca-­Cola franchise bottler licensed to produce, sell and distribute The Coca in Nigeria, and has done so since 1951 in compliance with both national and international food quality and safety regulations. The company does not export its products outside of the Nigeria market and has not encouraged its customers to do so because of cross-­jurisdictional variances in industry standards.

8. Entrepreneurs wishing to export NBC products are obliged to carry out due diligence to ascertain destination country standards and to comply with all export guidelines
NBC products are manufactured in compliance with international standards of food quality and safety and within the guidelines of the Nigerian Industrial Standards. The products are therefore suitable for consumption by persons from anywhere in the world. However, as the national food and beverage regulatory guidelines differ from one country to another, it is important for anyone wishing to export any of these products, or any products in general, to ensure due diligence and compliance with all relevant export regulations, which will entail confirmation of the standards/ guidelines applicable in the destination country for the specific products.

9. Fanta taken alongside Ascorbic Acid (Vitamin C) is not poisonous
A consumer cannot not be poisoned when Fanta is taken with Ascorbic Acid (Vitamin C). For Benzene (the risk factor) to formally occur, the benzoate level must be above the Codex levels of 600mg/kg (revised to 250mg/kg in March 2017), in the presence of metal ions (iron, copper) that act as catalysts with vitamin C under UV radiation, heat (over 60oC) and time. Fanta has a lower benzoate content of about 184mg/kg (lower than both Codex and the Nigerian regulatory standards), thereby making it safe for consumption, particularly as all other catalysts are rarely present to result in an unsafe formation.

10. NBC has appealed the court order to include a warning label on bottles of Fanta and Sprite
Given the fact that the court ruled that NBC did not breach any food safety regulations and consequently dismissed all the charges of negligence and the claims for damages brought against the company, we have appealed the order which directs NAFDAC to mandate the inclusion of a warning label on Fanta and Sprite bottles. As this matter is still in court, we are unable to comment further on the subject.

11. The Federal Ministry of Health did not make a specific order to NBC or the beverage industry on the warning label
The public statement issued by the Federal Ministry of Health on 17th March 2017 corroborated the facts outlined in the company statement NBC issued on 15th breach of any food safety regulation. The statement also certified that the products in question (Fanta and Sprite) were safe for consumption to include a warning label on their products. Rather, the statement contained an advisory companies are encouraged to insert advisory warnings on all products as necessary. It is our belief that the beverage industry will examine this well-­meaning advice in all its ramifications and engage the Federal Ministry
of Health and other stakeholders on point of view on the matter.

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Benzoic AcidFantaSprite
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