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NZ drinks need benzene tests - Greens

16 June 2005

NZ drinks need benzene tests - Greens

Soft drinks within New Zealand need to be tested for benzene levels, the Green Party says.

Other food safety agencies around the world including those in the United Kingdom, Ireland, Germany and Australia have all launched tests after unacceptably high levels of benzene were found in some soft drinks in the USA. Ireland and the UK recalled some brands in their countries because they exceeded the internationally accepted levels.

"The New Zealand Food Safety Authority cannot with any credibility claim that carbonated drinks containing the combination of benzoate (additive 211) and ascorbic acid do not have benzene levels that are likely to pose any significant risks when it has not undertaken any similar testing in New Zealand, and is instead relying on the results of some recent testing in Australia.

"The Australian study, carried out by Food Safety Australia New Zealand, tested 68 soft drinks. It found that 7 percent exceeded the World Health Organisation maximum level of benzene, with some containing up to four times the internationally recognised levels. Thirty-eight contained trace levels of benzene. Drinks tested included Fanta Lite, Lift Lemon and Schweppes Butters.

"Benzene is a recognised carcinogen and it is a huge concern that the soft drinks tested in Australia, which may also be sold in New Zealand, had illegal levels of benzene residues.

"Equally concerning is the fact that FSANZ did not recall the products with illegal levels of benzene in them, as other countries have, but resorted to public relations puffery to rationalise their inaction.

"FSANZ did not even require producers to change their production processes to decrease their benzene levels to the levels considered safe by international guidelines," Ms Kedgley said.

"What is the point of having guidelines if our authorities refuse to require compliance with them?

"I call on the government to take this issue seriously. Given that another recent food survey revealed high levels of benzoates in New Zealand food, New Zealand authorities should require testing of common brands of soft drinks here, recall any products that exceed the WHO benzene levels, and require food companies to take action to decrease the benzene levels in their products. Just maintaining a watching brief is totally inadequate way to protect public health," Ms Kedgley says.


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