The Vice Chancellor of Benson Idahosa University, Prof. Ernest Izevbigie has insisted that taking Vitamin C with Fanta and sprite soft drink could cause cancer and other health illness.
He expressed concern over the non-compliance with the order of a Lagos High Court mandating the National Agency for Food and Drug Administration and control (NAFDAC) to compel NBC to include a written warning that it would be dangerous to take the contents of the soft drinks with Vitamin C.
He said the 90 days given by the court has since expired and that the NBC should have withdrawn the products until all the issues were resolved.
Speaking at a press briefing at the university senate chamber, he said that it was worrisome that nothing had changed since the order from the court mandating NAFDAC to compel the Nigeria bottling company (NBC) to do the needful, adding that it was wrong for organizations to place profit ahead of human safety.
Prof. Izevbigie, said that the institution stood by its research findings on the danger of taking Vitamin C with benzoic acid as in Fanta and Sprite, saying it was done in line with the mandate given to the University to impact knowledge, research and service to the country.
“It is the university that should serve as an umpire. It is about us to give our expert opinion.”
He explained that the review of the Scientific literature which examined the effect of temperature (20 o C, 60 o C and 100 o C) on the conversion of Benzoic acid to benzene shows, “an increase in benzene formation of as the temperature increased from 20 degree Celsius to 60 degree Celsius by approximately three fold (300%) in the absence of Vitamin C, and tenfold (1000%) in the presence of Vitamin C in 24 hours. It cannot be concluded the formation of benzene does not occur at 30 o C and 40 o C”.
He said the colourant used in Fanta, the yellow sunset, had been implicated in cytotoxicity, carcinogenesis, allergies and hyper activity in children when the right amount is not used.
On benzoic acid, he said the Federal Ministry of Health has explanation to give on the reason why standard given for it in soft drinks was put at 250mg/kg as opposed to 150mg/kg that was obtainable in the United Kingdom and Ghana.
He further said that azo dyes do not occur in nature, they metabolise due to the presence of azo reductase enzymes in the body, which reduce the azo group to produce two compounds with amino groups.
Prof Izevbigie, who noted that though the Nigerian standard was high owing to high temperature and that it still falls within the international standard, said pasteurization and the use of carbon dioxide can achieve the same goal as the use of high benzoic acid without the added health risks.
He urged NAFDAC to live up to its responsibility in scientific research and regulation, adding that the issue of human safety must override business profit.
He recommended a “reduction of the sodium benzoate concentration to below 150mg/kg, a removal of Vitamin C as an ingredient in Fanta due to concern for benzene toxicity and the use of natural dye as a replacement for the colourant in Fanta.”