Times (London) - Soft drinks pulled from shelves over cancer fear: Watchdog demands inquiry over ben

Discussion in 'Food and nutrition' started by [email protected], Apr 1, 2006.

  1. Times (London) - Soft drinks pulled from shelves over cancer fear:
    Watchdog demands inquiry over benzene levels in 26 popular brands


    The Times April 01, 2006
    Soft drinks pulled from shelves over cancer fear
    By Valerie Elliott Consumer Editor

    * Watchdog demands inquiry over benzene levels in 26 popular brands

    SOFT DRINKS were being removed from supermarket shelves last night
    after they were found to be contaminated with a cancer-causing

    Four products were immediately pulled from shelves and a further 22,
    including leading brands, were found to contain levels of benzene
    greater than that allowed in tap water. The bottles already taken from
    shelves because they breach World Health Organisation (WHO) guidance
    include own-label soft drinks sold by the Co-op, Morrisons and Aldi.

    Tests on one Co-op drink showed that levels of benzene, which is linked
    with leukaemia and other forms of blood cancer, were 36 times those
    allowed in tap water. Drinks that were still on sale last night, but
    that breach the legal limit for benzene in tap water, include some of
    those made by Schweppes, Robinsons, Kia-Ora, Vimto and Lilt.

    Food safety campaigners demanded that all products with benzene levels
    above drinking water be removed from sale until they complied with the
    tap water standard.

    Richard Watts, spokesman for Sustain, said: "I would think twice
    about drinking anything that was above the standard for drinking water,
    and many parents will feel the same. It is outrageous that it has taken
    so long for the public to learn these figures, given the industry has
    known about the problem for 15 years. Yet only now consumers will know
    the truth."

    Stephen O'Brien, Conservative health spokesman, said: "These are
    very important results, but they reinforce the need for us to know what
    is a safe limit for benzene to be acceptable in drinks, and I feel the
    agency must now decide what is that safe limit."

    The Food Standards Agency (FSA) said last night that it wanted urgent
    talks with the soft drinks industry to ensure that all products meet
    the legal level for tap water of one part per billion. There is no
    maximum level for the chemical in soft drinks in EU law and there is no
    legal requirement even for manufacturers to follow the WHO limit. The
    bottles removed from sale are:

    * Two batches of the Co-op's litre bottle of low-calorie bitter
    lemon, with 28ppb and 11ppb benzene;
    * Morrisons' two-litre no added sugar pineapple and grapefruit crush,
    with 11ppb;
    * Aldi's Hyberry one-litre high-juice, no added sugar blackcurrant
    squash, 12ppb;
    * A Popstar 330ml still, sugar-free lemon and lime drink, with 17ppb
    benzene, manufactured by Silver Spring Mineral Water, of Folkestone,

    There was anger that the FSA and the drinks industry had been slow to
    investigate benzene in soft drinks. Action was only triggered after
    traces of benzene were found in the US in brands such as Diet Pepsi and
    Sunny D - these drinks have different formulations in Britain and do
    not contain benzene.

    The FSA rushed out results yesterday of tests on 149 drinks including a
    range of fruit juice, iced tea, squash, fizzy and low-sugar drinks. It
    did not check any brand of cola because this does not contain the two
    products that trigger the formation of benzene in drinks, an agency
    spokesman said.

    The compound has only been found where drinks contain sodium benzoate
    E211, a preservative used widely by manufacturers to prevent growth of
    moulds, and ascorbic acid E300, otherwise known as vitamin C. An
    absence of sugar from a drink and exposure to light and heat are also
    possible causes.

    The bulk of the drinks, including Fanta and own-brand juices from
    Sainsbury's, Tesco and Waitrose showed no detectable traces of
    benzene or matched the UK water standard of 1ppb, prompting the food
    watchdog to demand that all drinks comply with the standard.

    Andrew Wadge, the FSA director of food safety, said: "These results
    show that it is technologically possible to produce soft drinks without
    detectable traces of benzene. This is what we want all manufacturers to

    He made clear that people should not be alarmed if they have drunk the
    products. Benzene is in the air and most people on average breathe in
    220 micrograms a day.

    People would need to consume more than 20 litres of a drink containing
    benzene at 10ppb to equal the daily amount from the air.

    The British Soft Drinks Association said last night in a statement:
    "The test results published by the FSA show that the levels of
    benzene that have been found are very low and that soft drinks are safe
    to drink."

    The Co-op and Aldi immediately removed the contaminated drinks from
    sale and Morrisons issued a recall.

    The Silver Spring Mineral Company, which manufactures the other brand
    removed from sale, declined to comment.

    History and Origin of Benzene in Soft Drinks