Contrary to widespread suspicion, Nigeria’s health ministry affirms that Coca-Cola products are safe for Nigerians.
The federal ministry of health has officially waded into the controversies surrounding the safety of Coca-Cola products in Nigeria following the recent court judgement on the case filed by Fijabi Holdings and another versus Nigeria Bottling Company and NAFDAC (joined as a nominal party).
In a statement made available to HealthNewsNG, the ministry said a meeting of the Department of Food and Drug Services, Federal Ministry of Health, National Agency for Food and Drug Administration and Control (NAFDAC) and Standards Organisation of Nigeria (SON) was summoned to address the related issues and the following findings were made public.
The health ministry concluded that both benzoic acid and ascorbic acid (Vitamin C) are ingredients approved by International Food Safety regulators and used in many food and beverage products around the world.
On the issue of whether the levels of additives introduced as preservatives are within specification, the ministry in its statement referenced the Codex Alimentarius Commission (CAC) which is the organ established by Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) and World Health Organization (WHO) to set internationally recognized standards, codes of practice, guidelines relating to foods, food production, and food safety.
In the case of Benzoic acid, the standard set by Codex was 600mg/kg until recently reviewed to 250mg/kg and adopted in 2016. With reference to the Codex standard and other relevant documents, Standards Organisation of Nigeria (SON) as the standard setting body in Nigeria in consultation with technical experts and relevant stakeholders elaborated the standard of benzoic acid in soft drinks to be at 250mg/kg based on the National climatic and storage conditions. This standard has been in existence since 1997 and revised in 2008.
According to the health ministry, the levels of benzoic acid in Fanta (1 batch) and Sprite (2 batches) presented by the claimant in the court are 188.64mg/kg, 201.06mg/kg and 161.5mg/kg respectively. The ministry concluded that these levels are in compliance with both the Codex and Nigeria Industrial Standards.
On concerns over the safety of Coca-Cola products being manufactured for consumption in Nigeria, the health ministry affirmatively states that the products are safe for consumption in view of the following reasons.
“Risk assessment was conducted to ascertain maximum limits of food additives acceptable in foods.This takes into consideration the environmental, storage and distribution conditions as well as the shelf life of food products.
“NAFDAC and SON regularly monitor the manufacturing practices of Food industries and conduct laboratory analysis to ascertain continuous compliance with required national standards.
“There was a routine inspection conducted at Nigeria Bottling Company by NAFDAC officers in December, 2016 which was satisfactory.”
While addressing the global disparity in the standard of Fanta and Sprite particularly the variation in what is allowed in United Kingdom and what is acceptable in Nigeria, the health ministry made reference to the Codex standards.
“With reference to the Codex standards, each country or region is permitted to adapt a standard/limit based on country specific scientific evidence such as environmental, storage and distribution conditions,” the ministry stated.
The health ministry described benzoic acid as a preservative which prevents the growth of microorganisms which thrive more at higher climatic temperatures like in Nigeria.
“Due to the different environmental conditions obtainable in the UK, the standard for benzoic acid was set at a lower limit of 150mg/kg while in Nigeria it was set at 250mg/kg even below that of Codex (as at time of production of that batch; Codex limit was 600mgkg).
“Food products being imported into a country must comply with the relevant standards of the destination country. NAFDAC has processes in place to ensure products imported into the country are evaluated to ascertain compliance with required Nigeria Industrial Standards.”
According to the health ministry, the claimant did not obtain NAFDAC certification before export, otherwise, he would have been advised on the required standard of the destination country.
“We would like to advise all Nigerians to take medicines with potable water. This would help to prevent unexpected drug-food interactions. For the benefit of the health of all Nigerians, all bottling companies are encouraged to insert advisory warnings on all products as necessary.”