The Vice Chancellor of Benson Idahosa University, Prof. Ernest Izevbigie, has faulted the clarification by the Federal Government that Fanta and Sprite beverages manufactured in Nigeria by the Nigeria Bottling Company were safe for consumption.
It will be recalled that a Lagos High Court ordered the National Agency for Food, Drug Administration and Control to compel the NBC to include a written warning that the drinks could not be consumed with Vitamin C.
The Federal Ministry of health had on March 18, 2017, declared that the products were healthy for consumers, having conducted a routine inspection in 2016, through the National Agency for Food, Drug Administration and Control, at NBC, which it said turned out satisfactory.
It had, however, directed the company and other bottling companies to include the advisory warning on their products to protect the health of Nigerians.
But the Vice-Chancellor of the University, Prof. Ernest Izevbigie, who spoke at a press briefing, said that the position of the government fell short of addressing the safety concerns raised by the court.
Prof. Izevbigie stated that the Federal Government was silent on the usage of the colourant, sunset yellow, which he said had no nutritional value and also belonged to a chemical class of azo dye, that could be toxic to different cells in the human body and create problems.
He explained, “Although azo dyes do not occur in nature, they are metabolizable due to the presence of azoreductase enzymes in the body, which reduce the azo group to produce two compounds with amino groups.
“Scientific literature shows that sunset yellow is implicated in cytotoxicity, carcinogenesis, allergies and hyperactivity in three to nine-year-old children.”
The professor of biology and biochemistry also said that benzoic acid, a microbial preservative contained in the drinks, were almost twice the amount used in neighbouring Ghana and could be converted to benzene, “a known compound that causes cancer”.
According to him, the essence of the advisory warning recommended by the Federal Ministry of Health was already defeated, since Fanta and Sprite contained Vitamin C in the form of Ascorbic acid.
He said, “You are telling me not to take these products with Vitamin C but you already have Vitamin C in it. It seems to me that the purpose of the advisory warning is already defeated.”
He, therefore, urged NAFDAC to live up to its responsibility in scientific research and regulation, adding that the issue of human safety must override profit.
“There should be a reduction of benzoic acid or sodium benzoate concentration to below 150 milligrams per kilogramme, as recommended by the World Health Organisation and is obtainable in the UK that has a low temperature than Nigeria and Ghana which has the same climatic condition as Nigeria” he said.
“Vitamin C should be removed as an ingredient in Fanta due to concerns raised from benzene toxicity; the use of natural dye could be considered, for example, beta-carotene, as is done for the NBC product, 5 Alive Pulpy Orange.”