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Canada Cracks Down On Energy Drinks

Health Canada has imposed new requirements on energy drinks, which must now disclose their ingredients on their labels and limit their caffeine levels.

A row of six empty energy-drink cans on a table, including Budget Energy Drink, Trojka Energy, an undetermined brand in a yellow and blue can, Power Bat, Prix Garantie Energy Drink, and Red Bull.

Photo: Danilo (Flickr)

Canada's Health Minister Leona Agglukaq argues that listing ingredients on energy drink cans will enable Canadians to make informed decisions about what they choose to consume.

A Question Of Categories

On Oct. 6, 2011, Health Canada changed the classification of energy drinks from “natural health products” to “foods.”

This shift changes how the government is regulating the sales of these beverages that include products like Red Bull, Monster and Rockstar.

The main impact of this shift is that manufacturers will now have to print ingredient lists on their cans and bottles.

In conjunction with this change, Health Minister Leona Agglukaq announced the following new regulations for energy drinks:

  • The concentration of caffeine cannot exceed 100mg per 250 ml
  • No single-serve beverage may contain an excess of 180mg of caffeine
  • Labels must identify the total caffeine content
  • Labels must specify that the beverage is a high source of caffeine
  • A limit has been imposed on the types and quantities of vitamins and minerals that the drinks may contain
  • Labels must include a statement advising against the consumption of the beverage by children, and pregnant or breastfeeding women
  • Labels must include a warning that the drinks shouldn’t be mixed with alcohol

Cutting The Caffeine, Eh?

Sports drinks like Gatorade energize their consumers by boosting needed electrolytes.

Energy drinks, in contrast, may contain vitamin and mineral supplements, but provide most of their power through high doses of caffeine.

The caffeine and mineral quantities in these drinks are designed for adults, but have become popular among adolescents–the group that Health Canada is hoping to protect through these new measures.

Canadian Experts Wanted More

These new requirements fall short of the recommendations given to the government by Health Canada’s own panel of experts on November 2010.

This panel effectively wanted to see the beverages reclassified as legal drugs, and regulated as such.

Recommendations included renaming the products to “stimulant drug-containing drinks,” banning their sale to anyone under the age of 18, prohibiting their marketing to minors, and prohibiting the distribution of free samples.

Experts also wanted to restrict their sales to pharmacies, under the supervision of a pharmacist–the same as the conditions for buying caffeine in pill form in Canada.

Supporters of the stronger regulations have accused the Health Minister of bending under the pressure of the industry’s lobbyists.

Agglukaq has denied this, contending, effectively, that the government has a responsibility to make sure Canadians can make informed decisions about what they choose to eat or drink, but not to make those choices for them.

Not The First Country To Clip Red Bull’s Wings

Canada is the latest of many countries to try to increase the regulation of energy drinks.

France banned the sale of Red Bull following the death of an 18-year-old Irish athlete who died after consuming four cans. The European Court of Justice required them to begin selling the drink again in 2008, in light of a lack of proof that it was dangerous.

Denmark and Norway also banned the drink, but those bans have since been lifted.

In the United Kingdom, energy drinks are labelled with an advisory recommending that minors and pregnant or breastfeeding women not consume them.

The Food and Drug Administration, in the United States, continues to debate whether energy drinks should be marketed as food or as supplements. Products marketed as foods in the U.S. must list their ingredients, and are reviewed by the FDA for safety. In 2010, Indianapolis and Bloomington, Indiana both banned the sale of alcoholic energy drinks.

Products marketed as supplements, however, do not necessarily undergo FDA scrutiny.

Read More:

  • Canada To Limit Caffeine In Energy Drinks (Reuters)
  • Energy Drink Labels To Contain Warnings (CBC.ca)
  • Energy Drink Expert Report Leaves Health Canada In Sticky Situation (Postmedia News)
  • 2 Energy Drinks Tell Murky Tale Of Supplement Regulation (Chicago Tribune)
Sarah Gordon

Sarah Gordon has been interested in food ethics since she was 15, learned about industrial slaughter, and launched into 10 years of vegetarianism. These days, she strives to be a conscientious omnivore. Now a PhD candidate in folklore, her research has caused her to spend a lot of time in the remote Canadian sub-arctic, where the lake trout (sustainably harvested) tastes amazing.

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