Industry calls for caffeine labeling

Amid heavy public scrutiny, a trade group for the supplements industry says it's promoting self-regulation of caffeinated products.

On Wednesday, the Council for Responsible Nutrition issued voluntary guidelines that instruct companies to label products with the amount of caffeine included, as well as suggestions for daily limits.

“These recommendations go beyond what is required by law, but our member companies, along with the conventional beverage industry, recognize that consumers would benefit by having information that lets them know how much caffeine is in the products they choose to take,” said Steve Mister, the group’s president and chief executive, in a statement.

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Lawmakers such as Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) have pushed for the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to address caffeine regulation; a report from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration found a rise in deaths and emergency room visits due to consumption of highly caffeinated products and energy drinks.

“Go into that gas station and take a look at some of these energy drinks, and then look at the bottle of Gatorade or soda next to it in the case,” Durbin said on the Senate floor last month. “One often is regulated as a beverage, the other — the dietary supplement — is not.”

The industry says it is being proactive about creating health-conscious consumers.

Though voluntary, “companies looking to do the right thing can adopt these flexible recommendations for developing their own product labels,” the trade group wrote in its statement Wednesday. “We trust consumers will be mindful of the amounts of caffeine they are getting from all sources.”

The Council for Responsible Nutrition will also push manufacturers not to advertise caffeine supplements with alcohol, a combination that can put consumers' safety at greater risk.

The FDA recommended amount of caffeine is about 200 mg to 400 mg per day for adults. The regulator hasn't specified a recommended amount for children, but health advocates set that number at around 45 mg to 85 mg per day, based on weight. Energy drinks can contain anywhere from 85 mg to 350 mg each, while a medium Starbucks brewed coffee contains about 330 mg of caffeine.

Late last year, the FDA announced it would investigate the connection of illnesses and deaths associated with consuming high volumes of caffeine found in Monster, 5-Hour Energy and Rockstar products.

Some of the nation’s top physicians added pressure last month, writing a letter to the regulator urging tougher restrictions on items that contain large amounts of caffeine.

Over the years, the FDA has received thousands of reports from the industry, consumers and health organizations that linked illnesses with drinking the popular beverages. The reports, though, are not evidence that the company is at fault.

Monster Energy, which has been linked to at least five deaths, said in March that it would now be classifying its products as a beverage, which makes it subject to tougher FDA regulations. However, the change means the company will no longer have to submit the accident reports to federal regulators.

Mister disagrees, saying supplements undergo more federal scrutiny than do food products and hoped the guidelines to the industry would help promote increased safety.

"Adherence to these rules may not satisfy our fiercest critics, but it will demonstrate that while we stand behind the safety of caffeine, we are committed to helping consumers select products," he wrote in a trade publication Wednesday.


This post was updated at 5:10 p.m.