Notion of health warnings on soda pop draws ire of A.B.A.

by Eric Schroeder
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WASHINGTON — Asking the Food and Drug Administration to place warning labels on soft drinks that contain caloric sweeteners "patronizes consumers and lacks common sense," said Susan Neely, president and chief executive officer of the American Beverage Association.

Ms. Neely’s statement was issued in response to a petition filed July 13 with the F.D.A. by the Center for Science in the Public Interest asking the agency to require a series of rotating health notices on containers of all non-diet soft drinks — carbonated and non-carbonated — containing more than 13 grams of refined sugars per 12 oz.

In its petition, the C.S.P.I. said the F.D.A. could include any of a number of messages, such as "The U.S. government recommends that you drink less (non-diet) soda to help prevent weight gain, tooth decay and other health problems," "To help protect your waistline and your teeth, consider drinking diet sodas or water," and "Drinking soft drinks instead of milk or calcium-fortified beverages may increase your risk of brittle bones (osteoporosis)."

The C.S.P.I. also suggested that caffeinated drinks should contain a notice that reads "This drink contains ‘x’ grams of caffeine, which is a mildly addictive stimulant drug. Not appropriate for children."

But Ms. Neely said the C.S.P.I. proposal flies in the face of common sense and consumer sensibility, as current labels already provide key information.

"Obesity and diabetes are serious health problems in the U.S. that deserve meaningful and effective interventions, not the shallow gestures advocated today," Ms. Neely said. "Current Nutrition Facts Panels and labels on soft drinks already provide consumers with key information they need to make the beverage choices that are right for them, including information on calories, sugar, caffeine, sodium, and other contents.

"To ask the F.D.A. for warning labels on soft drinks, or any food products that contain caloric sweeteners, patronizes consumers and lacks common sense. Where would such a food ‘hit list’ stop? Even skim milk and thousands of other food products could potentially fit into a C.S.P.I. labeling scheme because of the sugars contained in those products.

"Contrary to C.S.P.I.’s assertion, American consumers are taking advantage of the many beverage options available today. In fact, consumption of soft drinks actually has declined. According to the Beverage Digest 2005 Fact Book, the average American consumed 18 (12-oz) cans less in 2004 than they did in 1998. And Beverage Digest reports that calorie consumption per beverage serving has declined 16% during the same period due to an increase in bottled water and diet soft drink consumption and a decrease in full-calorie soft drink consumption."

Ms. Neely said beverage manufacturers and distributors are working to help solve America’s obesity challenge in several ways, including by offering a variety of package sizes for many products and investing millions of dollars in physical fitness initiatives to encourage people to be more active.

"Soft drinks are a refreshing and enjoyable beverage to be consumed in moderation as part of a balanced approach to life," Ms. Neely said. "Warning labels designed by C.S.P.I. will unnecessarily confuse consumers without providing helpful nutritional information. Individuals, not the government, are in the best position to make the food and beverage choices that are right for them."

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