Court Declares Fanta, Sprite Unsafe for Human Consumption

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Olumide Lawal
Lagos state high court has ruled that Fanta and Sprite, soft drinks produced by the Nigerian Bottling Company (NBC), contain excessive levels of additives which make them unsafe for human consumption.

This ruling is the result of a 2008 suit filed by one Emmanuel Adebo, a Nigerian businessman, after his company was unable to sell large quantities of the drinks in the United Kingdom.

Adedayo Oyebanji, the presiding judge, ordered the National Agency for Food, Drug Administration and Control (NAFDAC) to direct the manufacturer to include a warning on the containers of the product that its content cannot be taken with Vitamin C.

Justice Oyebanji also awarded damages of N2 million against NAFDAC for failing “to live up to expectations.”

“In consideration of the fact that this case was filed in 2008 and has been in court for nine years, N2 million is awarded against NAFDAC. Interest shall be paid on the cost awarded at the rate of 10 per cent per annum until liquidation of the said sum,” Justice Oyebanji said.

The case against NAFDAC and NBC was instituted by Dr. Emmanuel Fijabi Adebo, and his firm, Fijabi Adebo Holdings Ltd.

Fijabi Adebo Holdings had, in March 2007, purchased large quantities of Coca-Cola, Fanta Orange, Sprite, Fanta Lemon, Fanta Pineapple and Soda Water from NBC for export to the UK for retail purposes.

However, the drinks failed a sample test for human consumption in the UK and became poisonous in the presence of Ascorbic Acid, known as Vitamin C.

The court also said that NAFDAC had failed Nigerians by certifying the drinks as satisfactory for human consumption.

Fijabi, on his part, urged the court to direct NAFDAC to conduct routine laboratory tests of all soft drinks and allied products of the company, to guarantee their safety.

The claimants demanded N15.1 million as special damages and N1.6 million being the money the NBC admitted it received from the claimants.

In its defense, the NBC, through its lawyer, T. O. Busari, said it was not negligent as claimed by the plaintiff, saying it has stringent quality control procedures to ensure that its products are safe for end-user consumption.

The NBC argued that the levels of the chemical components in its soft drinks are safe for consumption in Nigeria and that the claimants are not entitled to the recovery of damages arising from their illegal exportation of products meant for local distribution.

NAFDAC did not file any defense in the case.

Justice Oyebanji ruled that the knowledge of the Nigeria Bottling Company that the products were to be exported was immaterial to its being fit for human consumption.

“The court is in absolute agreement with the learned counsel for the claimants that soft drinks manufactured by Nigeria Bottling Company ought to be fit for human consumption irrespective of colour or creed,” he said.

“It is manifest that NAFDAC has been grossly irresponsible in its regulatory duties to the consumers of Fanta and Sprite manufactured by Nigeria Bottling Company.”

The judge said NAFDAC had failed Nigerians by its certification as satisfactory for human consumption, products which in the United Kingdom failed sample test for human consumption and which become poisonous in the presence of Ascorbic Acid ordinarily known as Vitamin C, which can be freely taken by the unsuspecting public with the company’s Fanta or Sprite.

“The court, in the light of the damning evidence before it showing that NAFDAC has failed to live up to expectations, cannot close its eyes to the grievous implication of allowing the status quo to continue as it is,” the judge said.

He ruled that, “That NAFDAC shall forthwith mandate Nigeria Bottling Company to, within 90 days hereof, include on all the bottles of Fanta and Sprite soft drinks manufactured by the company, a written warning that the content of the said bottles of Fanta and Sprite soft drinks cannot be taken with Vitamin C as same becomes poisonous if taken with Vitamin C.

“In consideration of the fact that this case was filed in 2008 and that it has been in court for nine years, costs of N2 million is awarded against NAFDAC. Interest shall be paid on the costs awarded at the rate of 10% per annum until liquidation of the said sum.”

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