The UK’s soft drinks industry has welcomed a parliamentary committee finding that there is not enough evidence to ban the sale of energy drinks to children.
In August, the UK government proposed prohibiting the sale of energy drinks to under-16s in England as a means of tackling obesity.
The Science and Technology Committee has since found that “societal concerns could justify a ban on the sale of energy drinks to children”. However, the committee said “current quantitative evidence alone is not sufficient to warrant a statutory ban”.
Gavin Partington, director general of the British Soft Drinks Association (BSDA), said: “The BSDA supported the voluntary ban on the sale of energy drinks to under-16s by retailers as it is in line with our longstanding code of practice, so naturally we welcome the committee’s endorsement of this approach.
“Our members do not market or promote energy drinks to under-16s, nor do they sample products with this age group. In addition, energy drinks carry an advisory note stating ‘Not recommended for children’.
“It is worth noting the committee found that the current quantitative evidence alone is not sufficient to warrant a statutory ban. The BSDA is committed to supporting the responsible sale of energy drinks and is keen to work with governments and retailers to achieve this – in line with and in the spirit of our own code of practice.”
BSDA members include Red Bull UK, Coca-Cola European Partners, Danone Waters UK and Ireland, and Mars Drinks UK.
The committee inquiry examined the effects of energy drinks, especially the caffeine contained in them, and was launched after research showed that young people in the UK are the biggest consumers of energy drinks in Europe for their age group.
The Science and Technology Committee said it welcomes any voluntary action taken by schools, retailers and local communities that could reduce energy drink consumption among children. Earlier this year, supermarkets such as Aldi, Asda and Waitrose banned the sale of energy drinks to under-16s.
In a statement, the committee said it recommends that there should be more prominent advisory notices on energy drinks packaging. Its report recommends that the government should use the opportunity of leaving the EU to introduce additional labelling requirements to ensure that advisory messages are not just in the small print.
Committee chair Norman Lamb MP said: “Throughout this inquiry, the committee has heard a range of concerns warning of the impact energy drinks can have on the behaviour of young people. This varied from a lack of concentration in the classroom and hyperactivity to the effects on physical health. It’s clear from the evidence we received that disadvantaged children are consuming energy drinks at a higher rate than their peers.
“Although the committee feels there is not enough scientific evidence alone to support a blanket ban, we support voluntary bans by retailers – many of whom have recognised the negative impact associated with such products. The government needs to commission independent research to see whether energy drinks are more harmful than other soft drinks.”
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