REPS SUMMON NBC, CADBURY, PEPSI, OTHERS OVER HARMFUL DRINKS

John Ameh, Abuja

The House of Representatives has summoned the Nigerian Bottling Company Limited and 90 other major carbonated/soft drinks manufacturing companies in the country over allegation of harmful substances contained in some products sold to Nigerian consumers.

Findings by The PUNCH on Sunday showed that Seven-Up Bottling Company Plc; Sona Breweries Plc; Guinness Nigeria Plc; Nestlé Nigeria Plc; Jos International Breweries Plc; Glaxosmithkline Pharmaceutical Limited; and Cadbury Nigeria Plc were among the invited firms.

The list included Nigerian Breweries Limited; Nigerian Distilleries Limited; Champions Breweries Plc; International Breweries Plc; Frutta Juice and Services Nigeria Limited; Emzor Pharmaceutical Industries Limited; Covenant University Consultancy Services Limited; Bons Industries; and Superior Beverages Limited.

An ad hoc committee of the House is investigating the alleged high concentration of Benzoic Acid and Sunset Yellow additives in Fanta and Sprite, both products of the NBC.

The NBC also produces Coke.

Health risks, particularly cancer, are said to be the end results for consumers if the products are taken in combination with Ascorbic Acid, better known as Vitamin C.

The panel, which is chaired by the Majority Leader of the House, Mr. Femi Gbajabiamila, was mandated by the House to extend the investigation to cover other 90 soft drinks firms in a bid to ascertain the safety of their products for Nigerian consumers.

The PUNCH gathered in Abuja that the summons was in compliance with a House resolution of March 23, which ordered the investigation.

A copy of the document, which The PUNCH sighted on Sunday, directed the 91 firms to forward their memorandums to the panel latest by October 14.

The firms are also to appear before the panel for an investigative hearing, beginning on October 24.

The document specifically asked the firms to “submit a memorandum on the quality of ingredients, additives and preservatives contained in your drinks (alcohol and non-alcohol) and any other related products, including evidence of regulatory compliance and samples of your drinks.”

It was signed by Gbajabiamila.

The House had resolved to investigate the firms after a member, Mr. Rotimi Agunsoye, moved a motion to draw the attention of lawmakers to the health risks Nigerians faced by combining high concentrates of Benzoic Acid in soft drinks with Vitamin C in March.

Agunsoye had recalled how tests conducted by the United Kingdom’s health authorities on Nigerian Coca-Cola products concluded that they were “harmful for human consumption.”

He said Nigerians became alarmed when the company’s response was that the products were “never intended to be taken outside the country, which in other words, means that they were produced for consumption in Nigeria only.”

There was angry reaction from lawmakers on the floor as the debate progressed on March 24.

Some called for the outright suspension of the marketing of the products in Nigeria to protect the lives of the citizenry.

Others suggested that Coca-Cola should print a warning on its bottles to read, “On Your Own” or ‘OYO,’ for drinking the products.

While in other countries, the content of Benzoic Acid in drinks is 150mils, members stated that in Nigeria, it was as high as “250mils, and could lead to health complications for consumers.”

On the day of the debate, Gbajabiamila told members that the health risks were real as the issue emanated from a court judgement.

Gbajabiamila, a lawyer, added, “This motion is not even an allegation. It is real and factual.

“It came from a court judgement and facts were deduced. Coca-Cola did not deny that its products in Nigeria are meant for consumption in Nigeria alone.

“This matter is about the security and welfare of Nigerians. When it is about the security and welfare of the people who sent us here, we owe them a duty to defend their safety.

“I had thought that as an international brand, Coca-Cola should have a standard quality control system applicable to all countries.”

Gbajabiamila argued further that the development had exposed the risks Nigerians took daily, consuming many brands of soft drinks produced in the country.

“We only got to know of the case with Coca-Cola products because they were exposed.

“What about the products of other companies which have not been so tested?” the leader added.

One member, Mr. Henry Achibong, observed, “If they admitted that the drinks were meant only for the Nigerian market, it implies that they want Nigerians to take the drinks and die.”

The Chairman, House Committee on Justice, Mr. Razak Atunwa, noted that Nigerians who had the opportunity of tasting Coca-Cola products in other countries, would easily testify that they had different taste from the Nigerian products.

“There is high content of caffeine in what they give us here. The idea is to make you react three times than normal.

“It is to make the consumer become addictive. In the UK and the United States, caffeine is largely taken out of the products,” he stated.

However, a prayer by some members seeking to suspend the sale of Coca-Cola products for the meantime was rejected by the House.

But, they all voted in support of conducting the investigation.

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