Three Democratic lawmakers today released a report that shows inconsistencies in the labeling and classification of energy drinks, extensive marketing to adolescents and young adults through social media and events, and high caffeine levels that exceed what is considered safe in soda by the Food and Drug Administration. The report was compiled using responses from fourteen energy drink companies received by Rep. Ed Markey (D-Mass.) and Sens. Richard Durbin (D-Ill.) and Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) from their investigation into the industry.
The three lawmakers also call on energy drink makers to be better corporate citizens by following recommendations to improve transparency and protect consumers from deceptive advertising or undisclosed ingredients.
The major findings of the report, "What's All the Buzz About?", include:
Nearly identical drinks are both classified as conventional beverages and dietary supplements, leading to consumer confusion and regulatory issues. For example, the company Arizona produces several similarly sized and packaged drink products with comparable claims, yet appears to arbitrarily assign classifications to the products.
Caffeine disclosure is uneven, and nearly always above the FDA's safe level for soda beverages, a comparable category. For example, Rockstar energy drink contains 240 milligrams of caffeine, but because the company is undergoing a change in labeling practices, only some cans present the amount of the stimulant on the package.
Companies are focusing on youth-oriented social media and other marketing campaigns, including products meant to mimic frequently consumed alcoholic beverages.
"It's time for energy drink makers to stop masking their ingredients, stop marketing to kids, and start being more transparent with their products," said Rep. Markey. "It's time for the FDA to crack down on these drink makers and for the FTC to investigate advertising practices of these companies to ensure that kids and parents are not being subjected to deceptive marketing practices.
"In local convenience and grocery stores around the country, energy drinks are sold right next to soda and other well-known beverages. Any consumer would assume that the high levels of caffeine and novel ingredients in energy drinks have been rigorously tested by the FDA to ensure safety. Unfortunately, that is rarely the case," said Sen. Durbin. "While the FDA is undertaking a review of energy drink safety, its time energy drink companies stop marketing to children and start making meaningful changes to their labels that clearly show these are not your typical sugary drinks."
"The energy drink industry must end its advertising campaigns directed at kids, and provide more prominent warnings and clear caffeine labels," said Sen. Blumenthal. "High levels of caffeine combined with other additives can endanger young people, as the NCAA has recognized in its warnings and marketing restrictions. All consumers, especially parents, have a right to know that these drinks claiming to enhance stamina and strength can be highly risky. We'll follow up with the FDA and FTC to make sure they are taking appropriate action, because even one more emergency room visit linked to energy drinks is unacceptable."
The three lawmakers also recommended several steps that energy drink manufacturers should take to improve transparency and representation of this class of products as well as ensure that children and teens are adequately protected from deceptive advertising practices:
Label products with a clear description of the total amount of caffeine (in milligrams) added to the product from all sources.
For products that contain caffeine that has been intentionally added to the product at levels above 200 parts per million (approximately 71 milligrams per 12 fluid ounces), the level affirmed as safe by the FDA, display a prominent precautionary statement.
Cease marketing of energy drink products to children and teens under the age of 18..
Report to the FDA the receipt of any serious adverse events associated with energy drink use.