Red Bull, so the company slogan claims, “gives you wings.” Recent findings related to the soft drink company’s new cola shows that the marketing text might not be that far from the truth.
Red Bull Cola, introduced by the Austria-based drink company in 2008, is causing a stir in several German states — after traces of cocaine were found in the concoction.
The German Federal Institute for Risk Assessment is now intervening to determine whether consumption of the sweet beverage could be a health risk. The city-state of Berlin will wait for the test results to make a decision on banning the beverage, according to Marie-Luise Dittmar, a spokeswoman for Berlin’s Senate Department for Health.
Other German states have been quicker to act. Bavaria, North Rhine-Westphalia, Rhineland-Palatinate, Hesse, Lower Saxony and Thuringia have already begun pulling Red Bull Cola from the shelves. Baden-Württemberg is waiting on a ban until supplies of local cola have been tested and officials in Saxony have not yet reached a decision.
The catalyst for the Red Bull backlash was sample test done by the North Rhine-Westphalia Institute of Health and Work. Chemists found a very small concentration of cocaine (0.4 milligrams per liter of cola), presumably the traces of the coca plant extract used as flavoring.
According to the company, Red Bull uses an extract of coca leaves in the drink — the same botanical ingredients used in the production of cocaine — but insists that the product has no health risks. “The current test results have confirmed that the plant extract is harmless,” the company said.
Most food regulators seem to agree that the health risks from such a tiny amount of the drug are relatively nonexistent. “No health danger exists whatsoever,” said Wilhelm Deitermann, spokesman for North Rhine Westphalia’s consumer protection ministry.
However, the discovery has created a unique situation regarding the legality of the product, if not the safety of it. The traces of cocaine mean the drink could fall under the jurisdiction of Germany’s Narcotics Act.
“The cola is not harmful, but it violates food law,” said Thomas Schulz, a spokesman for the Thuringian Ministry of Health.
Regulators are working to determine the next legal step, said Andreas Zapf, president of the Bavarian Office for Health and Food Safety. In Germany, the 16 federal states are reponsible for food safety.
Coca leaf extract is used in other foods, although the addictive components are removed beforehand. In South America, coca has been chewed or consumed as tea for centuries — and nowadays can sometimes be found as an ingredient in beer, wine, baked goods, flour and other products.