WASHINGTON – The U.S. food and drug regulator on Friday called the addition of caffeine to children’s foods such as chewing gum and jelly beans “dangerous” and warned of a possible crackdown.
Food and Drug Administration Deputy Commissioner Michael Taylor said the rise in caffeine-added products outside the beverage industry was “very disturbing,” after candy giant Mars Inc. announced a caffeinated version of its Wrigley gum last month. That followed a slew of “high energy” foods on the market sporting substantial added caffeine, including pancake syrups, instant oatmeal, waffles, potato chips, marshmallows and sunflower seeds.
Caffeine-laced gum has been available in Japan for 30 years.
“We believe that some in the food industry are on a dubious, potentially dangerous path,” Taylor said in a comment on the FDA website. “The gum is just one more unfortunate example of the trend to add caffeine to food. One pack of this gum is like having four cups of coffee in your pocket.”
In late April, Wrigley introduced its Alert Energy Caffeine Gum, saying the product is aimed for adults and “lets people control the amount of caffeine they want on the go.” But critics say the longtime chewing gum brand’s product is generally available on the market to people of all ages.
“Our concern is about caffeine appearing in a range of new products, including ones that may be attractive and readily available to children and adolescents, without careful consideration of their cumulative impact,” Taylor said.
He said the FDA has not specifically regulated caffeine use since it first allowed the substance to be added to colas in the 1950s.
The rules that the agency has in place, though, “never anticipated the current proliferation of caffeinated products,” Taylor said.
In 2010, the FDA moved to block the addition of caffeine in alcoholic beverages, and late last year raised questions about high-caffeine “energy drinks” after several deaths were linked to the consumption of one brand, Monster Energy.
However, Taylor said the FDA was especially worried about caffeine that is added to foods children might easily eat, and was considering whether to place limits on it. He called on the industry to practice voluntary restraint while the regulator studies the issue.