Coca-Cola Products: Poisonous, but Refreshing

JENNIFER HELMY – Coca-Cola, produced by The Coca-Cola Company, endures as one of the most recognizable brands throughout the world.[1] Sprite, which is produced by Coca-Cola, is the world’s leading lemon-lime flavored soft drink, and is the number three soft drink worldwide.[2] Fanta is the second largest Coca-Cola brand outside the United States.[3]

A high court judge in Lagos, Nigeria, recently ruled that Sprite and Fanta could be “poisonous.”[4] The court held that the high levels of benzoic acid contained in these drinks, when mixed with ascorbic acid (commonly known as vitamin C), could pose a serious health risk.[5] Justice Adedayo Oyebanji ruled that the Nigerian Bottling Company (“NBC”) was required to place written warnings on Sprite and Fanta bottles notifying consumers of this health risk.[6] He also awarded damages against the National Agency for Food and Drug Administration and Control (“NAFDAC”) for being “grossly irresponsible” in failing to ensure compliance with health standards.[7]

This judgment was the result of a lawsuit filed by Lago businessman, Dr. Emmanuel Fijabi Adebo, and his company against NBC and NAFDAC.[8] Dr. Adebo alleged that NBC acted negligently when it bottled Sprite and Fanta knowing these drinks had excessive levels of benzoic acid.[9] Dr. Adebo’s company bought Sprite and Fanta from NBC to export to and sell in the United Kingdom in February 2007.[10] When the shipment arrived in England, however, health authorities raised fundamental concerns regarding the composition of the beverages.[11] Tests conducted on these beverages in the U.K., which were also corroborated by other European Union countries, revealed that these drinks contained excessive amounts of benzoic acid—a known carcinogenic substance.[12] Dr. Adebo’s shipment was destroyed by the United Kingdom health authorities, resulting in significant losses to him and his company.[13] NBC’s lawyers argued that the Nigerian Sprite and Fanta were not intended for export, but Justice Oyebanji rejected this defense, stating that NBC’s products “ought to be fit for human consumption irrespective of color or creed.”[14]

NBC and NAFDAC are appealing the ruling, arguing that the benzoic acid content of Sprite and Fanta do not exceed Nigeria’s limits or international limits set by the Codex Alimentarius Commission, which is a body of the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations that regulates international food standards.[15] According to Codex, the U.K.’s maximum permissible level of benzoic acid is 150 mg/kg.[16] Sprite and Fanta have benzoic acid levels of 200 mg/kg, which is lower than Nigeria’s limit of 250 mg/kg that is consistent with the current internationally permissible limit.[17] As a point of reference, the United States Food and Drug Administration has designated benzoic acid as a substance generally recognized as safe when used at a level not exceeding 0.1 percent,[18] which is equivalent to 1,000 mg/kg. Nigeria’s Ministry of Health and its Consumer Protection Council have both opened investigations into the safety of Coca-Cola products manufactured in Nigeria, and some Nigerian citizens have called for a boycott of Coca-Cola products.[19]

[1] Coca-Cola Product Description, Coca-Cola, (last visited Apr. 1, 2017).

[2] Sprite Product Description, Coca-Cola, (last visited Apr. 1, 2017).

[3] Fanta Product Description, Coca-Cola, (last visited Apr. 1, 2017).

[4] Paul Adepoju & Kieron Monks, Nigerians Boycott Coca-Cola Drinks After Court Rules Them ‘Poisonous,CNN (Mar. 28, 2017, 8:19 AM),

[5] Id.

[6] Id.

[7] Id.

[8] Id.

[9] Court Orders NAFDAC to Compel Nigerian Bottling Company to Warn Consumers of Dangers of Drinking Fanta, Sprite with Vitamin C, Sahara Reporters (Mar. 13, 2017),

[10] Id.

[11] Id.

[12] Id.

[13] Id.

[14] Adepoju & Monks, supra note 4.

[15] Id.

[16] Id.

[17] Id.

[18] 21 C.F.R. § 184.1021(d) (2017).

[19] Adepoju & Monks, supra note 4.

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