Congress leaders call out energy drink marketers to list caffeine content in investigative report

Congressional demands mirror recommendations on caffeine regulation made by CRN last month

WASHINGTON — Three Democratic lawmakers on Wednesday released a report that found inconsistencies in the labeling and classification of energy drinks, extensive marketing to adolescents and young adults through social media and events, and high caffeine levels that exceed what is considered safe in soda by the Food and Drug Administration. The report was compiled using responses from 14 energy drink companies received by Rep. Ed Markey, D-Mass., and Sens. Richard Durbin, D-Ill., and Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., from their investigation into the industry.

The three lawmakers called on energy drink makers to be better corporate citizens by following recommendations to improve transparency and protect consumers from deceptive advertising or undisclosed ingredients. “We’re pleased to see that most of the recommendations in the report … are consistent with CRN’s recently issued recommended guidelines for caffeine-containing dietary supplements," stated Steve Mister, Council for Responsible Nutrition's president and CEO. Acting on the issue proactively, CRN earlier this month had issued marketing guidelines for caffeine to its membership base, comprised predominantly of dietary supplement manufacturers. 

In a report titled "What’s All the Buzz About?", the Congress leaders found that nearly identical drinks are being classified as either conventional beverages or dietary supplements at the discretion of the supplier. "For example, the company Arizona produces several similarly sized and packaged drink products with comparable claims, yet appears to arbitrarily assign classifications to the products," Markey noted. Accordingly, caffeine disclosure is uneven and nearly always above the FDA’s safe level for soda beverages. 

“It’s time for energy drink makers to stop masking their ingredients, stop marketing to kids and start being more transparent with their products,” Markey said. “It’s time for the FDA to crack down on these drink makers and for the FTC to investigate advertising practices of these companies to ensure that kids and parents are not being subjected to deceptive marketing practices."

“In local convenience and grocery stores around the country, energy drinks are sold right next to soda and other well-known beverages. Any consumer would assume that the high levels of caffeine, and novel ingredients in energy drinks have been rigorously tested by the FDA to ensure safety. Unfortunately, that is rarely the case,” added Durbin. “While the FDA is undertaking a review of energy drink safety, its time energy drink companies … tart making meaningful changes to their labels that clearly show these are not your typical sugary drinks.”

"CRN agrees with the report’s recommendations to label products with the total amount of caffeine added to the product from all sources, as this provides consumers with important information with which they can make informed decisions," Mister said. "[CRN] will continue to call on FDA to finalize its Draft Guidance on distinguishing liquid dietary supplements from beverages, as CRN believes that will provide further clarity as to how companies can determine whether to market their energy drinks as supplements or conventional foods," Mister continued. "For consumers, what’s most important is not which category these products fall into, but the fact that both categories have rules and regulations that help ensure consumers can purchase safe products.”

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