The consumer rights organisation foodwatch has ordered a ban on so-called "energy shot" drinks. The little bottles contain caffeine and taurine in exceptionally high concentrations. Both energy shots and standard energy drinks are suspected of causing irregular heart rhythms, cramps, kidney failure, and even death. With the shots, however, the danger of an overdose is especially great.
"For Red Bull and Co., the energy shots are big business, especially with adolescents. For consumer health, they could pose a grave threat," explained Matthias Wolfschmidt, Head of Campaigns at foodwatch. A 60 ml energy shot contains the same dose as a normal Red Bull can with a concentration of four times the strength. "Scientists warn of possible side effects, especially when combined with sports or alcohol. Despite this, Red Bull is marketing the drinks with popular young extreme sports athletes for its supposed "increased performance". For preventive public health reasons, energy shots have no place in the supermarket and must be banned."
foodwatch demanded an across-the-board ban on "shots". In addition, standard energy drinks should bear clear warning labels and customers must be 18 years of age to purchase them.
In May 2012, the Federal Ministry of Consumer Affairs did actually set maximum limits for the amount of ingredients such as caffeine and taurine that energy drinks can legally contain. However, Red Bull is exploiting a loophole in this regulation by claiming the "shots" to be officially classified as a nutritional supplement. The Red Bull energy shot contains more than four times as much caffeine and taurine per litre than the legal limits for energy drinks.
Energy Shots are rated as "unsafe"
In an investigation for the Federal Ministry of Consumer Affairs in December 2009, the Federal Institute for Risk Assessment (BfR) rated the energy shots as "unsafe" and advocated a ban: Since a warning label on the packaging is not sufficient in preventing overdoses, the scientists recommended that "energy shot products not be permitted to enter the market". In 2012, the French food authority ANSES also warned that the safety of these products could not be guaranteed. Currently, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in the USA is determining whether energy drinks were responsible for a number of deaths. High levels of caffeine are not the only problem. Health risks are also suspected due to the interaction with the highly concentrated additive taurine and with accompanying alcohol use.
German Consumer Affairs Minister apparently sees no need for action
At foodwatch's request, the BfR reaffirmed its critical position regarding the products in January 2013, but backed down on its original demand for a ban, instead recommending only "appropriate warning labels on the packaging".
foodwatch expert Matthias Wolfschmidt: "In 2009 the actions recommended by federal risk assessors to consumer affairs minister Ilse Aigner were very clear: ban energy shots. But for three years, Miss Aigner chose to simply ignore the results of the scientific investigation that she herself ordered, even though she does not require Brussels's approval to take action in cases of imminent concern for public health. Without explanation, the Federal Institute for Risk Assessment has suddenly changed its position on the ban and politicians remain idle. Even as federal health authorities in the USA investigate the role energy shots may have played in recent deaths, the German Consumer Affairs Minister apparently sees no need for action.“
According to the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA), one in three adults consumes energy drinks and the figures are much higher for children and adolescents: 68 percent of teenagers consume the drinks. Of those, 12 percent are "high chronic consumers" (at least four times a week) and 12 percent are "high acute consumers" (more than one litre per use).