US: Wrigley gum prompts FDA to review caffeine in foods

By Dean Best | 1 May 2013

The gum contains 40mg of caffeine, equivalent to half a cup of coffee

The gum contains 40mg of caffeine, equivalent to half a cup of coffee

The roll-out of Wrigley's caffeine gum has prompted the US Food and Drug Administration to look again at the impact the ingredient has on health.

Wrigley, part of food giant Mars Inc, this week launched Alert Energy Caffeine Gum, a product it has claimed is targeted at 25 to 49-year-olds.

Campaigners have expressed concerns about the use of caffeine in foods and the launch of Alert has sparked more questions about the ingredient.

The FDA said the gum was the latest in a "series of foods to which caffiene had been added". The regulator plans to look again at caffeine's impact, particularly on children.

"The only time that FDA explicitly approved the added use of caffeine in a food was for cola and that was in the 1950s. Today, the environment has changed," Michael Taylor, FDA deputy commissioner for foods and veterinary medicine, said. "Children and adolescents may be exposed to caffeine beyond those foods in which caffeine is naturally found and beyond anything FDA envisioned when it made the determination regarding caffeine in cola. For that reason, FDA is taking a fresh look at the potential impact that the totality of new and easy sources of caffeine may have on health, particularly vulnerable populations such as children and youth, and if necessary, will take appropriate action."

The Center for Science in the Public Interest last year called on the regulator to look into the use of caffeine after PepsiCo announced plans to launch a snack line containing the ingredient.

The CSPI criticised Wrigley's marketing of the new gum. It pointed to an ad in USA Today in which consumers were told they could get the ad free at 7-Eleven stores if they bought a skinney salted caramel mocha. 

"It's a bad sign that Wrigley is marketing this new caffeinated gum to be consumed with, and not instead of, caffeinated beverages," Michael Jacobson, executive director at the CSPI, said. "Wrigley is basically inviting someone to have a serious adverse reaction."

Jacobson said one serving of foods with caffeine "isn't likely to harm anyone" but added: "The concern is that it will be increasingly easy to consume caffeine throughout the day, sometimes unwittingly, as companies add caffeine to candies, nuts, snacks and other foods. And that's on top of the soda, coffee, tea, and energy drinks that are already widely consumed."

Wrigley defended the launch of Alert and said it would work with the FDA. "Alert Energy Caffeine Gum is for adults who are looking for foods with caffeine for energy and contains 40mg a piece, about half a cup of coffee. We are exceeding current regulatory requirements on labelling and disclosure because we believe consumers should be informed on the amount of caffeine they are consuming in their food and beverage products so they can make smart choices. Alert competes in the well-established energy category. It is developed for adults and will be marketed to consumers 25 and older," the company said. "As the FDA refines its approach to caffeine, we welcome the opportunity to work with them on this important topic."

The company also stoody behind its promotion in 7-Eleven stores. "The promotion is aimed at driving trial with adults who are looking for foods with caffeine for energy, such as coffee drinkers, at times when they may not want or have access to coffee," it added.

Sectors: Commodities & ingredients, Confectionery, Food safety

Companies: Wrigley, PepsiCo, Mars Inc, 7-Eleven

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