Dáil Éireann - Volume 556 - 07 November, 2002
Written Answers. - Stimulant Drinks.
Mr. Naughten Mr. Naughten
149. Mr. Naughten asked the Minister for Health and Children if he will prohibit the use of guarana in stimulant drinks in line with a decision of the US Food and Drugs Administration; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [20931/02]
Minister of State at the Department of Health and Children (Mr. T. O'Malley)
Minister of State at the Department of Health and Children (Mr. T. O'Malley): Guarana, a native South American plant, contains guaranine, a substance chemically similar to caffeine with comparable stimulant effects. Guarana, Paullinia cupana, is often added to stimulant drinks either in combination with caffeine or on its own. The stimulant effect of guarana is related to its caffeine content; one gram of guarana contains as much caffeine, 40 mg, as a medium strength cup of coffee. The precise source and nature of the stimulant activity of guarana is not well understood. However, it has been reported that guarana exerts a more prolonged effect than an equivalent amount of caffeine, even though the stimulant action has been attributed to the presence of caffeine. In determining the overall caffeine content of a beverage, the guarana content must be taken into account along with the caffeine content.
In May 2001 the Food and Drug Administration, FDA, in the USA informed manufacturers of foods and drinks containing guarana and other herbal substances including echinacea and ginseng that the use of these herbs in food products was no longer permitted, forcing the withdrawal of a number of stimulant drink products from the US market. The US withdrawal of these products is based on US legislation that requires the manufacturers to prove that all ingredients are safe for use in foods, even if they have received prior approval for medical use. The impetus is now on the manufacturers of these products to produce scientific evidence to the FDA that these ingredients are safe. The Food Standards Agency in the UK has asked the European Commission to investigate the use of guarana and other herbs as stimulants and flavourings in stimulant drinks.
To date there have been no reported adverse health effects of guarana at the concentrations used in stimulant drinks. However, there is concern regarding the high levels of caffeine present in these drinks. Safefood, the food safety pro motion board, has recently published its findings following a review of the health effects of stimulant drinks. The main recommendations of the report are: drink products with caffeine contents greater than 150 mg per litre to be labelled “high caffeine” content and the amount of caffeine present be given; products containing guarana to be labelled likewise; stimulant drinks to be labelled with an indication that they are unsuitable for children under 16 years of age, pregnant women and individuals sensitive to caffeine; and stimulant drinks not to be consumed in association with sport and exercise as a thirst quencher, and products to carry a clear statement on the label that they are unsuitable rehydration agents for use in sport and during exercise.
The Safefood report draws attention to the fact that the majority of the public probably do not realise that guarana-containing products are in fact high in caffeine. This is of concern particularly to those individuals who may be caffeine-sensitive and adequate labelling of guarana containing products is, therefore, essential. Since the release and uptake of caffeine from guarana is the same as for preparations containing free caffeine, it is clear that the guarana content of drinks must be taken into account when estimating total caffeine.
The EU standing committee on foodstuffs has considered an amendment to the labelling directive 2000/13/EC. Member states, including Ireland, agreed in February 2002 to an amendment requiring specific labelling indicating the presence of caffeine and quinine in foods when used as a flavouring or ingredient. Products that contain levels of more than 150 mg per kg or mg per litre of caffeine will in the future be labelled “high caffeine content” and the exact amount present must be indicated on the label. These new rules must come into effect by July 2004. Against this background, there are no plans at present to prohibit the use of guarana. The matter will be kept under review.
Dáil Éireann 556 Written Answers. Stimulant Drinks.