- The Washington Times - Wednesday, July 13, 2005

A Washington health advocacy group is pushing the Food and Drug Administration to require warning labels on soft drinks that are high in calories and caffeine.

The Center for Science in the Public Interest yesterday filed a petition with the federal agency, which regulates U.S. food and drug sales.

The petition said “health messages” should be posted on all drinks containing more than 1.1 grams per ounce of high-fructose corn syrup or other caloric sweeteners, which it called “liquid candy.”

Warnings also should be posted on soft drinks that have more than 10 milligrams of caffeine per 12-ounce serving, the request said.

“Soft-drink companies are doing everything they can to pump up consumption, health be damned,” said Michael Jacobson, the group’s executive director, at a press conference yesterday.

The group has filed two similar petitions with the FDA in the past decade. Both petitions, which call for more nutritional information disclosures on food products, are pending.

The center suggested warnings, such as “drinking too much non-diet soda may contribute to weight gain,” be plastered on soda cans and bottles.

Another suggested warning said, “a 12-ounce serving of this drink contains 40 milligrams of caffeine, a mildly addictive stimulant drug. Not appropriate for children.”

FDA spokeswoman Kimberly Rawlings said the agency would review the group’s petition “carefully.”

“The FDA does recommend consumers eat a well-balanced diet and adhere to the dietary guidelines that were recently put out,” she said, refusing to comment further on the petition.

The Center for Individual Freedom, an Alexandria advocacy group funded by foundations, consumers and a few corporate donors, called the petition a “freedom-sucking proposal.”

“There is no question this is part of a broader agenda to limit what Americans eat and drink,” said Marshall Manson, spokesman for the group that promotes personal responsibility.

But Mr. Jacobson said his organization wants consumers to have more nutritional information about the products they consume.

The group in the past has lobbied for removing soft drinks from school vending machines, placing nutritional facts on restaurant menus and menu boards, and increasing the number of available water fountains in schools and parks.

“It’s ridiculous to think a health message can take away choice from consumers,” Mr. Jacobson said.

The food industry said warnings on soft drink containers could lead to warning labels on other foods and beverages.

“Where would such a food ‘hit list’ stop?” said Susan Neely, president and chief executive of the American Beverage Association, a Washington trade group.

Ms. Neely said fewer Americans are drinking regular soft drinks, with more opting for bottled water and diet soda. The average American drank 18 fewer 12-ounce cans of soda in 2004 than in 1998, according to the latest data from Beverage Digest.

Purchase, N.Y., soda manufacturer Pepsico this week said its second-quarter sales for regular carbonated soft drinks faced a mid-single-digit decline. The drop was partially offset by a low-single-digit increase in diet drink sales.

Mr. Jacobson’s group also released a report that found teenagers drink on average between one and two 12-ounce cans of soda daily, despite the declining rate of U.S. soda consumption.

The report, which used government surveys from 1999 to 2002, found that teens ages 13 to 18 each day consumed 21 ounces of soft drinks, with roughly 250 calories in them.

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