Take a look at how energy drink controversy and regulatory scrutiny unfolded over the past year.
April 3, 2012: Senator Durbin Writes FDA
Senator Richard Durbin (D–IL) writes to FDA asking the agency to “take regulatory action and to address the rising health concerns around energy drinks.”
May 23, 2012: FDA Warning Letter to Rockstar
The agency says Rockstar’s product is considered a conventional beverage-not a dietary supplement, as labeled-and thus is adulterated for containing unapproved food additive Ginkgo biloba.
August 28, 2012: NY Attorney General Subpoenas Energy Drink Firms
Reuters reports that New York’s Attorney General requested information from three makers of energy drinks: PepsiCo, maker of AMP Energy; Monster Beverage Corp.; and Living Essentials LLC, maker of 5-Hour Energy. The companies were asked to provide documents related to their products and marketing.
September 11, 2012: Senators Durbin, Blumenthal Write FDA
Senators Durbin and Richard Blumenthal (D–CT) write to FDA asking the agency to respond to “concerns regarding the interaction of ingredients in energy drinks and the effect that the caffeine in energy drinks has on children and adolescents.”
October 17, 2012: Wrongful Death Suit Filed Against Monster Brand
The parents of 14-year-old Anais Fournier file suit against the Monster energy drink brand, claiming that her death was due to a “toxic” amount of caffeine and other stimulants as the result of consuming two 24-oz Monster energy drinks within 24 hours. The suit says Monster failed to warn consumers of the product’s risk of adverse health effects.
October 26, 2012: Senators Durbin, Blumenthal Write FDA Again
Senators Durbin and Blumenthal write to FDA again, this time asking the agency “to quickly identify and recommend remedies for weaknesses and loopholes in current law that are exploited by energy drink manufacturers in order to avoid oversight.”
November 16, 2012: FDA Posts AERs for Popular Energy Drinks
FDA’s Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition (CFSAN) publishes two files detailing adverse event reports (AERs) for energy drinks, including Red Bull, Monster, 5-Hour Energy, and Rockstar. Consumption of Red Bull was connected to 21 AERs filed between January 1, 2004, and October 23, 2012. During the same time frame, 5-Hour Energy was linked to 92 AERs, Monster to 40 AERs, and Rockstar to 13 AERs. In the reports, Red Bull is characterized as a conventional food, whereas the other three brands are characterized as dietary supplements. Under current law, mandatory reporting of AERs is required for dietary supplements, but not conventional food. FDA says the reports only reflect information provided and do not represent a cause and effect.
November 21, 2012: FDA Responds to Senators, Says Agency Will Take Action as Needed
Responding to the September and October letters from Senators Blumenthal and Durbin, FDA says it will continue to review the safety of energy drinks and will take action as needed regarding the caffeine content of energy drinks and label disclosures/warnings.
November 30, 2012: Congressman Markey Asks the FTC to Investigate Drinks Targeting Children
Representative Ed Markey (D–MA) asks the FTC to investigate energy drinks that target children. “Along with caffeine, energy drinks typically contain other ingredients such as high levels of certain B vitamins, taurine, and other amino acids that may have additional stimulating impacts on the body. The additive impacts and safety of these and other stimulative ingredients in energy drinks have not been determined,” he writes.
December 2012: Consumer Reports Tests Caffeine Label Claims
Consumer Reports analyzes 27 top-selling energy drinks and shots and finds that a handful contain more than 20% the level of caffeine listed on their labels. It also says the caffeine levels per serving ranged from 6 to 242 mg. Only 16 of 27 products listed specific amounts of caffeine. (Energy drinks are not required to list caffeine content levels.)
December 6, 2012: Senators Say FDA to Address Concerns
Senators Blumenthal and Durbin report that, following their meeting with FDA, the agency appears to be “moving forward in a number of areas to protect vulnerable populations against high levels of caffeine in energy drinks.” During the meeting, they urged FDA to convene an expert panel on caffeine and stimulant consumption by early 2013.
December 19, 2012: JAMA Publishes Energy Drinks Page
The Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) publishes an online information page on energy drinks, listing the caffeine content of leading brands and health risks associated with energy drinks.
January 1, 2013: New York Times Questions Energy Drinks
New York Times columnist Barry Meier kicks off the new year with his latest story on energy drinks, titled “Energy Drinks Promise Edge, but Experts Say Proof Is Scant.”
January 7, 2013: Researchers Say Energy Supplements at Military Bases Mislabeled
Researchers from NSF International, Harvard Medical School, and the Uniformed Services University report that dietary supplements widely available on military bases may be mislabeled for caffeine content. Their study is published in JAMA International Medicine.
January 10, 2013: DAWN Report Says Energy Drink–Related Emergency Room Visits Double
The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA; a U.S. government agency) releases an updated Drug Abuse Warning Network (DAWN) report. Calling energy drink consumption “a rising health problem” due to excessive caffeine intake, the agency reports that the number of emergency department visits related to energy drinks doubled from 10,068 visits in 2007 to 20,738 visits in 2011. SAMHSA says the majority of visits involved either adverse reactions due to misuse or combination with pharmaceutical drugs (27%), alcohol (13%), and illicit drugs (10%).
January 11, 2013: Morgan Stanley Says Energy Drink Sales Down in Convenience Stores
According to BevNet, Morgan Stanley cites slowing sales of energy drinks in convenience stores: “It appears that the recent slide in sales growth may be directly tied to the sustained deluge of controversy and criticism in recent months surrounding energy drinks.”
January 14–16, 2013: ABA Counters DAWN Report
The American Beverage Association slams the January 10 DAWN report, calling it “more sensational than substantive.” ABA says the report does not adequately account for the health status of individuals; whether they had consumed other caffeinated products; or the specific effects of alcohol, illegal substances, or pharmaceuticals involved. It adds that the report’s purpose “is intended to monitor drug-related emergency department visits, not the alleged effects of consuming non-alcoholic beverages.”
January 16, 2013: JAMA Releases More Reports
JAMA publishes two more reports on energy drinks, titled “Risks of Energy Drinks Mixed with Alcohol” and “Energy Drinks and Caffeine-Related Adverse Effects.”
January 16, 2013: Red Bull Sees Class Action
The lawsuit calls Red Bull’s marketing and labeling misleading, questioning claims of “enduring performance” or that Red Bull is a superior source of energy.
January 17, 2013: Lawmakers Question Marketing
Representative Markey and Senators Durbin and Blumenthal send letters to 14 energy drink companies-including Red Bull, Pepsi Co., and Monster-asking companies to “explain their rationale for marketing their energy drinks and to provide data about their ingredients and claims in marketing campaigns.” One of the questions asked is whether marketers consider their products to be dietary supplements or conventional food/beverages.
January 17, 2013: France Rejects Energy Drink Tax
According to Agra Informa, the French Constitutional Council rejected a proposed tax on energy drinks. The tax was originally proposed with the hope of reducing energy drink consumption based on concerns of consumption with alcohol.