Should caffeine levels in energy drinks be regulated?

Reports of five deaths of people who drank Monster energy drinks raises concern in the industry of FDA regulation.

When news came out that the FDA had reports of five people who died after drinking Monster energy drinks, Monster’s stock plummeted. Now energy drink companies are worried the FDA could place new regulations on the industry.

"Everybody is nervous. We are in a media hail storm." says Tom Pirko, a consultant to the beverage industry at a firm called Bevmark. But he expects the storm to blow over quickly. He described the incidents of death from people drinking energy drinks as, "so miniscule as to be almost negligible. We are looking at something that is an emotional matter, but it is a very important matter to the industry."

The industry is concerned that the FDA could regulate the amount of caffeine in an energy drink. Soft drinks for example, are allowed no more than 72 milligrams per serving.

"The FDA could regulate the energy drink industry if it chose to," says Michael F. Jacobson, executive director of the Center for Science in the Public Interest. He believes energy drinks should be regulated in the same way that soft drinks are.

Pirko, of Bevmark, worries that if the FDA were to limit the amount of caffeine in energy drinks it could affect other segments of the beverage industry: "Do they start regulating the coffee you buy at Starbucks?" Pirko asks.

Jacobson believes that is unlikely because current regulation only covers caffeine added to drinks so it would not apply to naturally caffeinated beverages like coffee and tea.

"You would have to say coffee should be limited to an eight ounce serving," Jacobson says, "That's never going to happen."

About the author

David Weinberg is a general assignment reporter at Marketplace.

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