WASHINGTON – A report published by the staff of Rep. Edward J. Markey of Massachusetts calls on energy beverage marketers to be more transparent in how their products are marketed and labeled. The report was based on a survey initiated by Rep. Markey, Sen. Dick Durbin of Illinois and Sen. Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut in January.
Specifically, the report recommended:
• Energy beverage manufacturers label products with a clear description of the total amount of caffeine added to the products from all sources. For products that are packaged in non-re-sealable containers, the label should include the amount of caffeine from all sources in the entire container, not just one serving.
• For products that contain caffeine that has been added intentionally to the product at levels above 200 parts per million (approximately 71 mg per 12 fluid oz), the level affirmed as generally recognized as safe by the Food and Drug Administration, display a prominent precautionary statement that at a minimum says, “This product is not intended for individuals under 18 years of age, pregnant or nursing women or for those sensitive to caffeine. Consult with your doctor before use if you are taking medication and/or have a medical condition.”
• Cease marketing of energy drink products to children and teens under the age of 18. Marketing includes use of both traditional media and social media as well as the sponsorship of events, activities and individuals that are intended for an audience comprised primarily of children or teens.
• Report to the F.D.A. the receipt of any serious adverse events associated with energy drink use. Serious adverse events are defined by the F.D.A., but reporting is currently only required by the F.D.A. for products that are represented as dietary supplements.
The recommendations were based on the results of a survey sent to the makers of 14 energy beverage brands. The survey consisted of 14 questions related to ingredients, product marketing and research performed to support any product claims. With the exception of Sambazon, which did not answer any of the questions and requested it be removed from the survey, and 5-Hour Energy, which sent its patent in lieu of answering the survey questions, all the other companies participated.
Findings from the survey indicated that inconsistent marketing, labeling and disclosure requirements are applied to energy drinks. As a result, nearly identical energy drinks may be marketed and represented to consumers differently, leading to consumer confusion and a lack of transparency.
The survey also noted energy beverages may be sold in a variety of sizes with various amounts of caffeine that exceed what has been previously recognized as safe by the F.D.A. for soda beverages. Despite the elevated levels, concentrations of caffeine are not represented uniformly on the label of the brands evaluated.
With regards to marketing, the survey said, “Adolescent consumers are frequent targets for the marketing pitches of energy drink companies. The use of unconventional marketing practices combined with product design and placement on store shelves assists in creating product images that appeal to children and teens.”
The report added energy drink companies make a range of advertising claims related to the functional benefits of their products that are not generally evaluated or substantiated by the F.D.A.
“Some of these claims appear to be targeted to young audiences or student athletes,” the report said.
Finally, the survey findings showed that in addition to caffeine, energy drinks contain a myriad of specialty ingredients whose combination and additive impacts are not thoroughly evaluated or well understood.
“Companies can and often do self-determine that ingredients are safe for use in energy drinks, and there is no requirement for companies to notify the F.D.A. of this determination or the use of the ingredient,” the report said.
“It’s time for energy drink makers to stop masking their ingredients, stop marketing to kids, and start being more transparent with their products,” said Mr. Markey. “It’s time for the F.D.A. to crack down on these drink makers and for the F.T.C. to investigate advertising practices of these companies to ensure that kids and parents are not being subjected to deceptive marketing practices.”
Mr. Durbin noted that in supermarkets and convenience stores energy drinks are sold next to sodas and other beverages.
“Any consumer would assume that the high levels of caffeine and novel ingredients in energy drinks have been rigorously tested by the F.D.A. to ensure safety,” he said. “Unfortunately, that is rarely the case. While the F.D.A. is undertaking a review of energy drink safety, its time energy drink companies stop marketing to children and start making meaningful changes to their labels that clearly show these are not your typical sugary drinks.”To view the full report, please visit “What’s all the buzz about?”