The Ministry of health has said that the Nigerian Bottling Company Plc, NBC, adhered to both Nigerian and international safety standards in the making of its products, including Coca-Cola, Fanta and Sprite, and therefore, the soft drinks are fit for human consumption.
This was contained in a statement on the Ministry’s website signed by the Director of Media and Public Relations, Akinola Boade, on Friday.
The statement followed a meeting summoned by the Minister, Isaac Adewole, and attended by officials of the Department of Food and Drug Services, Federal Ministry of Health, National Agency for Food and Drug Administration and Control, NAFDAC, and Standards Organisation of Nigeria, SON.
Recall that a court in Lagos on Thursday had ordered NAFDAC to compel the NBC to print on the bottles of Fanta and Sprite a warning to consumers that the products are poisonous when taken together with Vitamin C.
The court also awarded N2 million in damages against NAFDAC for failing to conduct routine checks and tests on the NBC hence their inability to detect that the soft drinks produced by the company contained excessive levels of preservatives.
But in its findings as revealed in Friday’s statement, the Ministry of Health noted that “both Benzoic acid and Ascorbic acid (Vitamin C) are ingredients approved by International Food Safety regulators and used in many food and beverage products around the world.”
It further stated: “The levels of benzoic acid in Fanta (1 batch) and Sprite (2 batches) presented by the claimant in the court are 188.64mg/kg, 201.06mg/kg and 161.5mg/kg respectively.
“These levels are in compliance with both the Codex and Nigeria Industrial Standards.”
According to the statement, “Codex Alimentarius Commission (CAC) is the organ established by Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) and World Health Organization (WHO) to set internationally recognized standards, codes of practice, guidelines relating to foods, food production, and food safety.”
The Ministry reiterated that Coca-Cola products manufactured in Nigeria are safe for consumption, adding that risk assessment was conducted to ascertain maximum limits of food additives acceptable in foods.
“This takes into consideration the environmental, storage and distribution conditions as well as the shelf life of food products,” the ministry stated.
The statement also said that “NAFDAC and SON regularly monitor the manufacturing practices of food industries and conduct laboratory analysis to ascertain continuous compliance with required national standards.”
“There was a routine inspection conducted at Nigeria Bottling Company by NAFDAC officers in December, 2016 which was satisfactory.”
However, the statement explained that the disparity between the standard of Fanta and Sprite in Nigeria and in the United Kingdom is due to issues of environmental and storage conditions.
The statement read: “With reference to the Codex standards, each country or region is permitted to adapt a standard/limit based on country specific scientific evidence such as environmental, storage and distribution conditions.
“Benzoic acid as a preservative prevents the growth of microorganisms which thrive more at higher climatic temperatures like in Nigeria.
“Due to the different environmental conditions obtainable in the UK, the standard for benzoic acid was set at a lower limit of 150mg/kg while in Nigeria it was set at 250mg/kg even below that of Codex (as at time of production of that batch; Codex limit was 600mgkg).”
The Ministry noted that Fijabi Holdings, the company that sued NBC and NAFDAC over the issue of excessive levels of preservatives in Fanta and Sprite, “did not obtain NAFDAC certification before export, otherwise, he would have been advised on the required standard of the destination country.”
With regards to consuming the products with Vitamin C, the health ministry advised Nigerians “to take medicines with potable water” so as “to prevent unexpected drug-food interactions.”
It also encouraged all bottling companies “to insert advisory warnings on all products as necessary” for the benefit of the health of all Nigerians.