New York City Councilman Crafts Credo Calculating Caffeine

NEW YORK — A city councilman who admits he drinks several cups of coffee a day said he will introduce a resolution Wednesday to pressure the federal government to require food and beverages to contain labels revealing caffeine content.

The councilman, Simcha Felder, said he became aware of the need for more information about caffeine content on food products last year when his wife urged their daughter to keep track of how much caffeine she was consuming from all products during pregnancy.

“She said, ‘You don’t accomplish much as an elected official. Maybe you can do something about this,”‘ the councilman recalled Monday with a chuckle. “And I don’t argue with her.”

Felder, D-Brooklyn, said he knows the City Council has no authority to force companies to provide the information on their products, but he wanted to put the city’s voice behind a movement to urge the Food and Drug Administration to require companies to provide caffeine quantities.

Scientists say consuming more than about 400 milligrams of caffeine a day can cause anxiety, sleeplessness, headaches, nausea and even heart problems. A 12-ounce soda typically has 30 to 55 milligrams of caffeine.

The councilman said it was important for pregnant women and parents to know how much caffeine they and their children were consuming from products including coffee, chocolate, soft drinks, yogurt and ice cream.

“I drink three or four cups of coffee a day,” Felder said. “When I don’t have it, I do get a headache. It’s certainly important for people to know there is caffeine in products.”

The FDA requires caffeine to be included in the list of food product ingredients, but it does not require the quantity to be specified. The agency said in a 1981 advisory that pregnant women should avoid caffeine or use it only sparingly.

Telephone and e-mail messages for comment left with the FDA in Washington, D.C., were not immediately returned Monday.

Felder said he is hoping a resolution can be passed within a month to add New York’s voice to a growing chorus urging FDA action.

“I’m hoping we’ll ignite the fire under the discussion a little more than some other place,” he said.

But he quickly added: “I’m not delusional. I don’t think Felder can accomplish the impossible overnight.”

The Center for Science in the Public Interest, a nonprofit health advocacy group based in Washington that focuses on nutrition and food safety, said it supported Felder’s resolution. It said it has been asking the FDA for 10 years to require disclosure of caffeine content on food labels.