Senators urge FDA to ban retail sale, marketing of pure caffeine

By Stephen DANIELLS

- Last updated on GMT

Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-OH): "Because of the risk powdered caffeine poses to consumers, these products merit swift and significant action by FDA."
Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-OH): "Because of the risk powdered caffeine poses to consumers, these products merit swift and significant action by FDA."

Related tags: Caffeine

A group of six Democratic senators have written to FDA commissioner Margaret Hamburg to urge the Agency to ban the sale and marketing of pure caffeine, a move that has received support from the industry.

The senators – who include Sherrod Brown (D-OH), Richard Blumenthal (D-CT), Charles E. Schumer (D-NY), Dick Durbin (D-IL), Edward J. Markey (D-MA), and Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) – voiced their support of a Citizen Petition organized by the Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI)​ urging the FDA to ban the sale of pure caffeine.

According to the FDA, a single teaspoon of pure caffeine is roughly equivalent to the amount in 25 cups of coffee - more than six times the recommended daily amount of caffeine for an adult. Despite warning from the FDA about the dangers of powdered caffeine, the products remain commercially available.

The products have been linked to the deaths of two young men who died after ingesting too much powdered caffeine.

"As long as this dangerous substance remains legal and readily available online and in retail stores, consumers will be exposed to its unreasonable risks," ​said Sen. Brown. "Powdered caffeine sold in bulk is markedly different than energy drinks, energy shots, or other retail products, such as pills, that contain caffeine. Because of the risk powdered caffeine poses to consumers, these products merit swift and significant action by FDA."

“Pure caffeine is simply unsafe - unlike any other energy product, without any protection for unwary consumers,”​ added Blumenthal. “There is no question that caffeine is a powerful stimulant capable of producing serious physical reactions that can lead to death. In pure form, overdosing on caffeine is not only easy but virtually unavoidable. Powdered caffeine is a product with no redeeming value and has no place in retail stores and online.”

The letter is available HERE​. [This link will download a pdf of the letter]

Safety risks

The Council for Responsible Nutrition (CRN) welcomed the move by the Senators, with the association’s president and CEO, Steve Mister, saying CRN has been appreciative of FDA’s efforts to date to warn consumers about the safety risks of this commercial-grade product, and urges the agency to take further action under the law.

“Under the law, FDA can remove this product from the marketplace and we think it should do just that. There is no reason why consumers would need—or should use—pure powdered caffeine,” ​said Mister.

“There are safe and beneficial caffeine-containing dietary supplements on the market for consumers. As the Senators pointed out in their letter, ‘Powdered caffeine sold in bulk is markedly different than energy drinks, energy shots, or other retail products such as pills that contain caffeine.’ In fact, in 2013, CRN issued guidelines for the industry for caffeine-containing products to help ensure appropriate amounts are used in legitimate products and so consumers can better understand how much caffeine they are getting.

“Ingredient suppliers have legitimate reasons to sell pure powdered caffeine to manufacturers of finished products, who then understand how to properly mix and dilute the ingredient into products that are safe for consumers and contain the appropriate amounts of caffeine.

“Consumers have no reason to purchase pure caffeine and would be unable to properly measure it into doses containing safe levels of caffeine. Direct-to-consumer sales of pure caffeine presents an unreasonable risk to public health.

“We pledge our support to FDA to help get pure powdered caffeine out of the retail environment and out of the hands of consumers,” ​said Mister. 

Related topics: Regulation

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