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Coca-Cola Denies Benzene Claims
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China's quality watchdog yesterday said it is paying close attention to claims that some soft drinks may contain excessive levels of benzene.


Recent Chinese media reports said two soft drinks brands, Coca-Cola's Fanta and Pepsi's Mirinda, are suspected of containing high levels of benzene. Large doses of benzene can cause cancer.


Li Jing, spokeswoman for the General Administration of Quality Supervision, Inspection and Quarantine, said it was keeping a close eye on the relevant reports on the issue but refused to comment further.


Zhao Yali, secretary-general of the China Beverage Industry Association, said they were studying the issue and would make a public statement "as soon as possible."


The Chinese media reports appeared after the UK's Food Standards Agency said last Thursday that it was going to conduct its own tests into the possible presence of benzene in soft drinks. It said the checks were expected to be completed within the next four weeks.


The agency made the announcement after examining data was supplied to it by the UK soft drinks industry last week following reports of benzene contamination in some soft drinks in the US.


The UK's soft drinks industry provided results for 230 drinks on sale in the UK. These results indicated that the levels of benzene, where detectable, were low and not a public health concern according to the agency's website. 


The Coca-Cola Company (China) yesterday denied reports that its Fanta brand contained benzene. Tian Wenhong, the company's spokeswomen, said Fanta and other drinks brands meet all national health standards and were therefore "absolutely safe."


Tian said according to a standard set by China's Ministry of Health, the benzene content in drinking water should be less than 10 parts per billion (PPB) and Fanta met that standard. "The reports (that Fanta is unsafe) are groundless. Our brands have never been mentioned by any country's quality authorities to be unsafe," Tian said.  


Benzene has been detected, at low levels, in some soft drinks as a result of interaction between the preservative sodium benzoate and ascorbic acid (vitamin C).


(China Daily March 7, 2006)

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