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Authority's soft drinks response is limp

22 February 2006

Authority's soft drinks response is limp and inadequate

Green MP Sue Kedgley is calling on the New Zealand Food Safety Authority to undertake urgent testing of common brands of soft drink on sale in New Zealand, to ensure they don't have residues of a carcinogenic chemical benzene in them.

"The Authority needs to undertake urgent testing to assure consumers that carbonated drinks containing the combination of sodium benzoate (the additive 211) and ascorbic acid are safe," Ms Kedgley said. " In the meantime the authority should warn consumers that overseas tests have found that drinks with this particular combination of additives could contain low levels of benzene -a known cancer causing chemical."

Ms Kedgley's call follows international concern after testing in the United States found common brands of soft drink with benzene levels above the legal limit. This discovery has prompted the US FDA to reopen a probe into benzene contamination of soft drinks, which it had begun in 1990.

Ms Kedgley said the UK and German authorities had moved quickly to begin testing common brands of soft drinks after the FDA re-opened its investigation into benzene in soft drinks, and New Zealand Food Safety Authority should follow suit.

"Saying they are 'maintaining a watching brief', is a limp and totally inadequate response," Ms Kedgley said. The Authority cannot with any credibility claim that the levels are unlikely to raise any significant public health risks, when it hasn't monitored or tested any drinks on the New Zealand market.

"Consumers will not be amused to learn not only that there are potentially cancer causing residues in commonly available soft drinks, but that American officials have known about this problem for more than a decade, and failed to act."

Ms Kedgley said the concerns around sodium benzoate raised wider issues, given that a recent survey of food in Australia and New Zealand revealed high levels of benzoates in New Zealand food, especially amongst food such as soft drinks and sausages that children eat.


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