Monster Sues SF’s City Attorney as FDA Begins to Investigate Use of Added Caffeine

On the heels of an announcement that the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) will begin investigating the safety of caffeine as a food additive, Monster Beverage Corp. has filed a lawsuit against San Francisco City Attorney Dennis Herrera over his demands that the company reduces the caffeine content in its energy drinks and stop marketing to minors, according to the Associated Press.

The lawsuit comes as energy drink marketers continue to face overwhelming scrutiny about the safety of their products from federal regulators and consumer watchdog groups.

Last year, Herrera sent a letter to Monster accusing the company of marketing campaigns that lead to “unsafe and irresponsible consumption of its products.” Herrera also called on Monster to substantiate its claims that consuming its highly caffeinated energy drinks is safe for consumers. Monster said that since receiving the letter, Herrera has asked the company to reformulate its energy drinks and change the way it labels and markets its products.

In a harshly worded statement released yesterday, Herrera blasted Monster for filing what he called an apparent “pre-emptive lawsuit” intended to halt his office’s investigation into possible violations of California consumer protection laws.

“Monster Energy is claiming an unfettered right to continue marketing its products to children and youth, even in the face of overwhelming evidence that its products pose serious risks to young people’s health and safety,” said Herrera, noting that his office has been working to end promotion of Monster Energy drinks on schools and at school-sponsored sporting events.

Herrera followed by saying that he would “litigate this case aggressively” in an effort to change the way Monster markets its products in California. He said that last month, he and 18 scientists and public health urged the FDA to take more aggressive regulatory action to in order to protect children and adolescents from potential risks associated with consumption of energy drinks.

Ironically, the announcement of Monster’s lawsuit came one day after the FDA said that it will look into the safety of added caffeine in food and beverages and the effect of the ingredient on children. The agency’s decision was prompted by a new caffeine-infused gum marketed by the Wrigley Co., which Michael Taylor, FDA deputy commissioner of foods, equates to “four cups of coffee in your pocket.”

Taylor noted that the only time the FDA explicitly approved added caffeine in foods and beverages was in the 1950s for use in colas. He called the explosion of caffeine in consumer products “disturbing” and “beyond anything FDA envisioned,” according to the AP.  While Taylor offered no indication that the agency would take immediate action to restrict the use of added caffeine, he said the agency would examine the impact of “new and easy sources” of caffeine and the effects that these products might have on children’s health. The FDA will take action, if necessary, he said.