Ruling on Sprite, Fanta Drinks in Nigeria and the Role of NBC and NAFDAC


Wednesday, March 15, 2017  12.00pm/Proshare WebTV

Recently Justice Adebayo Oyebanji of the Lagos High Court, Igbosere gave a judgement ordering the National Agency for Food and Drug Administration and Control (NAFDAC), to instruct the National Bottling Company, to issue out a warning to Nigerians that drinking either Fanta or Sprite with Vitamin C, is poisonous.

The Judgement  was the outcome of a suit filed by a businessman Dr. Emmanuel Fijabi Adebo, CEO of Fijabi Adebo Holdings Limited.

Dr. Adebo in his case asked the court to compel NAFDAC to carry out its role, which includes routine laboratory tests on all the soft drinks and related products of NBC to ensure their safety for consumption.

The businessman narrated an experience in March, 2007 that Fijabi Adebo Holdings Limited bought large quantities of Coca-Cola, Fanta Orange, Sprite, Fanta Lemon, Fanta Pineapple and Soda water, for export and subsequent retail in United Kingdom.

According to him, health authorities in the UK, the Stockport Metropolitan Borough Council Trading Standard, Department of Environment and Economy Directorate, flagged fundamental health concerns over the content of  the Sprite and Fanta soft drinks.

This was corroborated by the regulatory agencies in the European Union, which stated that the soft drinks contained excessive levels of sunset yellow and benzonic acid, which are classified as carcinogenic.

It affected the business of Fijabi Ajebo Holdings Limited, as the company could not sell the Fanta and Sprite drinks as they were seized and destroyed by the UK health authorities.

In its defense, counsel to the Nigerian Bottling Company, T.O Busari argued that NBC did supply the products, but they were meant for local distribution and consumption, as it does not produce for export. The company denied negligence and stated that it had high quality assurance, control and safety measures in production.

Justice Oyebanji in her ruling said “It is imperative to state that the knowledge of the Nigeria Bottling Company that the products were to be exported is immaterial to its being fit for human consumption. The court is in absolute agreement with the learned counsel for the claimants that soft drinks manufactured by Nigeria bottling company ought to be fit for human consumption irrespective of color or creed”.  

The Judge also awarded a cost of Two Million Naira (N2m) against NAFDAC, for failing in its regulatory role in carrying out the required routine tests on the drinks, thereby exposing unsuspecting Nigerians to health dangers.

With the rising cases of liver, kidney diseases and diabetes in Nigeria, it is worrisome that NAFDAC has been adjudged to have failed in its responsibility in ensuring that quality control is adhered to in the production and distribution of Fanta and Sprite drinks.

Beyond the order for NAFDAC to instruct NBC to issue out a warning to Nigerians on the dangers of drinking Fanta and Sprite with Vitamin C on the bottles within 90 days, the need to align with global best practice on beverage drinks becomes important.

The argument(s) advanced by Nigerian Bottling Company (NBC) has been adjudged by most research findings to be faulty and a stretch of evidence; as the production of soft drinks must follow global standards, whether the franchise is based in Nigeria or Malaysia. It indeed raises fresh concerns as to the regulation of the Nigerian Food and Beverage Industry in the past 10 years, considering the date of this case (March, 2007).

It is therefore expected that the National Assembly with oversight functions, the Federal Ministry of Health, alongside other related regulatory agencies, will wade into this development to save Nigerians from both possible and proven perils of poor regulation.

What you can do.
Experts consulted by a consumer rights group agree that ingesting benzene at the levels the US FDA found typically would not present an acute health risk. But because any exposure to a known carcinogen carries some risk, it makes sense to take precautions:

·         Read ingredient labels. Beverages that combine benzoate salts (listed as sodium benzoate or potassium benzoate) with vitamin C (ascorbic acid) can set the stage for benzene formation. You may want to leave those on the shelf.

·         If you do buy beverages with that combination of ingredients, store them in a cool place and out of direct light.

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