Red Bull under scrutiny after cocaine traces discovered

Posted by Janice Wong on 26th May 2009

Food authorities in Germany have discovered trace amounts of cocaine in Red Bull Cola, leading to a ban by six states in the European country.

The drink, which is 100% natural, contains kola nut and coca leaf – the same botanical ingredient used to make cocaine. The company said that similar extracts from coca leaf are used in other foods for flavouring worldwide; and, as the addictives are removed beforehand, the drink – available in seven European countries and the US – has no health risks.

“Decocainized coca leaf extracts are used as flavouring in foodstuffs around the world and are considered to be safe (eg FDA Gras Status, Council of Europe). Red Bull Cola and other foodstuff containing such extracts may therefore be sold legally,” the company advised in a statement. “The assessment commissioned by Red Bull Deutschland GmbH from the Austrian Belan Institute was unable to detect any trace of cocaine, and consequently clearly contradicts the assessment furnished by the LIGA (North Rhine Westphalia Institute for Health and Labor).”

The ban in the German states began last Friday when a food safety institute in North-Rhine Westphalia discovered miniscule traces of the drug in samples.

“The institute examined Red Bull Cola in an elaborate chemical process and found traces of cocaine,” Bernhard Kuehnle, head of the food safety department at the Federal Ministry for Consumer Protection, advised.

The German Federal Institute for Risk Assessment reported that the amount of cocaine was too low to pose a health risk, but the country is still considering a nationwide ban as trace amounts are banned.

The discovery puts Germany in a difficult legal position, as the non-cocaine coca leaf extract may fall under the jurisdiction of Germany’s Narcotics Act and not food law, and need a special license.

“The cola is not harmful, but it violates food law,” said Thomas Schulz, a spokesman for the Thuringian Ministry of Health.

Red Bull remains confident that their cola drink will be cleared.

“To clear up any concerns, on Monday 25 May, Red Bull Deutschland GmbH met with the relevant local authority, the Bavarian Ministry for Environment, Health, and Consumer Protection. Based on this meeting, the Ministry has decided to officially investigate the existing examination results. Red Bull Deutschland is confident the facts will be clarified imminently,” they said.