Outraged by the discovery that there are health dangers of taking Fanta or Sprite with Vitamin C, some consumer advocacy groups in the country have threatened to institute a class-action suit against the Nigerian Bottling Company, NBC.
However, the class-action lawsuit will only be taken if it is established that an infraction has been committed against consumers of NBC’s beverage products, Fanta and Sprite.
A class-action lawsuit is one in which a group of people with the same or similar injuries caused by the same product or action sue the defendant as a group.
President and Founder of the Consumer Advocacy Foundation of Nigeria, Ms. Sola Salako, however, said that the first step would be to consult the National Agency for Food and Drug Administration and Control and find out how it arrived at the level of benzoic and ascorbic acids to be used in producing soft drinks for consumption in Nigeria and why the global standard was different from that applicable in the country. Hear her:
“First, we have to ascertain from NAFDAC how they arrived at a different standard limit of benzoic acid for soft drinks meant for consumption in Nigeria. What is the condition of the laboratories that the tests were carried out to determine this standard? In the last 10 years, how many studies have been carried out to determine the changes in the lifestyle of consumers?
“The standard limit of benzoic acid in the United Kingdom is 150mg per kilogramme, while the standard level for Nigeria is 250mg/kg. That is too high!”
Suggesting that there might be a need to review the standard, the group said there is a possibility that when the 250mg/kg standard was set, people were not consuming as many soft drinks as they were currently consuming.
However, Salako faulted the NBC’s defence which holds that NAFDAC had approved the standard, saying it was not bothered.
She stressed that NBC should be concerned about the health of their consumers and half expected them to instead say that in the light of the current concerns, they would consider reducing the level of the acids because of the recent health concerns bothering on the consumption of soft drinks and sugar.
Similarly, President of the Consumer Awareness Organisation, Dr. Felicia Monye, lamented that although a class action had been part of the law, the attitude of consumers to such a suit was not encouraging to consumer advocacy groups.
Monye outlined the lukewarm attitude of consumers as responsible for the problem of consumer protection in Nigeria. She said: “Consumers and citizens generally do not opt for that for reasons best known to them. You will see that if 50 people agree to come together, after one or two meetings, the number will just reduce.
“Consumers and citizens generally do not opt for that for reasons best known to them. You will see that if 50 people agree to come together, after one or two meetings, the number will just reduce.
“This They may believe that they have a right, but when it comes to the enforcement of that right, they will not show interest.”
Meanwhile, in related development on the case, NAFDAC and the NBC have appealed the judgment of the Lagos High Court, which directed NBC to put a warning on Fanta and Sprite bottles that taking the products with Vitamin C was poisonous.
NAFDAC’s Director-General, Mrs Yetunde Oni on Wednesday, said that the agency’s lawyer had filed an appeal against the judgment and a motion to stay its execution. He said:
“NAFDAC is a national regulatory authority and will react both scientifically and legally to the matter. Our lawyer has filed an appeal and a motion to sta the execution of action of the judgment also filed.”
Moreover, counsel for NBC, Mr Olatunde Busari (SAN), also stated that the NBC had appealed the judgment, with the beverage company adding in a statement that both drinks were produced in compliance with national and international food quality and safety standards in the country.
Recall that a Lagos court had awarded a cost of N2m against NAFDAC. The judgment was in a suit filed by a Lagos-based businessman, Dr Emmanuel Fijabi Adebo, and his company, Fijabi Adebo Holdings Limited, against NBC Plc and NAFDAC.
In the suit, Adebo had asked the court to declare that NBC was negligent to its consumers by bottling Fanta and Sprite with excessive levels of benzoic acid and sunset additives.
He also urged the court to order NAFDAC to carry out routine laboratory tests on all the soft drinks and related products that NBC was bottling to ascertain their safety for consumption.
Consequently, the Nigerian Medical Association has urged NAFDAC and the Federal Ministry of Health to ensure the enforcement of the judgment.
The NMA held that NAFDAC failed Nigerians by declaring as fit for human consumption, drinks discovered through tests in the United Kingdom as being poisonous when mixed with Vitamin C.