And that topography is rocky at best, when one considers a product that is alleged to have proven harmful to children, teens and adults alike is regulated not as food, but as a dietary food supplement, thereby escaping the more stringent regulations required of food.
As an example, the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) requires that 12-ounce cans of colas contain a maximum of 71 milligrams of caffeine. However, Monster drink contents and those of other energy drinks may contain much more caffeine, due to the fact that food and nutritional supplements are not regulated in the same way as food.
In comparison, according to a Reuters report in June of last year, a 24-ounce can from Monster may contain Monster caffeine levels at 240 mg of caffeine, with some health experts suggesting that once the contents of other ingredients that mimic the effects of caffeine - including guarana - are factored in, caffeine levels could be as high as 550 mg in a 24-ounce can. And even though the energy drink container is twice the volume of a can of soda, teens and young adults have been known to drain an energy drink in just a few gulps.
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That’s a major hit of caffeine in a protracted period of time. It would take several cans of cola, and even more cups of hot coffee - sipped slowly - to equate the amounts of caffeine and other caffeine-mimicking natural stimulants in an energy drink.
Critics have been saying for years that energy drinks should be regulated as a food by the FDA. That way, specific ingredient levels would have to be spelled out in detail on product labels. As a dietary supplement, energy drinks are not required to do so. Label contents are loosely regulated under the nutritional supplement banner, and inclusion of ingredient amounts is strictly voluntary, and may not even be accurate.
That’s the primary reason why the Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI) began to lobby the FDA in June of last year to include a safety warning. Others want the FDA to go further, and move energy drinks from the Dietary Supplement umbrella to Food and Beverages.
The CSPI noted that Monster drink contents and the contents of other energy drink manufacturers typically contain a combination of guarana and taurine, as well as caffeine.
“I don’t think anybody knows what (these chemicals in energy drinks) do,” said Michael F. Jacobson, executive director of CSPI, which calculated the numbers using data it obtained from the FDA last year.
“It’s not clear what their risks are.”
In the Reuters report, published by foxnews.com (6/26/14), The FDA said it has been studying the drinks for several years and is evaluating any deaths attributed to the product. “This does not necessarily mean that the energy drink caused the death,” an FDA spokesperson said, in comments published in Reuters in June of last year.
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Critics note that even those manufacturers that voluntarily include caffeine levels, may list levels and amounts that are not accurate. A 2012 investigation by Consumer Reports found that 27 of the most popular brands of energy drinks in the US were found to contain, when tested, amounts of caffeine that differed from the listing on the product label. Others did not list the amounts at all, given that compliance is only voluntary.
It was also in 2012 that 14-year-old Anais Fournier went into cardiac arrest and died after consuming two 24-ounce cans of Monster Energy drink in less than 24 hours. Her family is currently embroiled in a wrongful death lawsuit with Monster Beverage Corp. alleging Monster Energy Drink Injury and wrongful death.