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Shanghai FDA to Keep Eye on Drinks
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The Shanghai Food and Drug Administration (FDA) said yesterday that small amounts of benzene are safe for humans to consume, but the government will conduct spot checks on soft drinks sold in the city and keep a close eye on investigations on benzene contamination in soft drinks in the west.

Officials said they will also enhance the study of food additives, especially the mixture of chemicals.

The Food Standards Agency (FSA) in Britain announced last week it will conduct further tests into the possible presence of benzene in soft drinks in the United Kingdom, after a check on 230 drinks found benzene in some beverages.

It said benzene may be a result of interaction between the preservative sodium benzoate and ascorbic acid (Vitamin C).

The FSA didn't name the questionable drinks, and said the benzene content was low and not a public health concern.

Scientific studies show that high doses of benzene can cause cancer.

Fang Youzong, a member of the Shanghai FDA's expert consultant group, said water can also contain benzene. The core issue is whether the benzene content exceeds the recommended standard, Fang said.

"No official investigation has confirmed the source of benzene in these drinks. Theoretically, it is difficult to create benzene through chemical interaction between sodium benzoate and vitamin C," he said. "In China, benzene content in drinking water should be less than 10 micrograms per liter."

"According to the FSA, benzene in the detected drinks is 8 micrograms per liter, while average people breathe 220 micrograms of benzene every day," he said.

Experts said the public shouldn't panic, and the government should work to decrease benzene content and perfect the use of food additives.

Both Coca-Cola and Pepsi said their products are safe to drink and in complete compliance with China's safety standards. Coke's Fanta and Pepsi's Mirinda have been linked to benzene by Chinese media outlets, as both beverages contain the two additives.

"Our products have passed all examinations by Chinese authorities," said Feng Haiyun, a spokesman for Coca-Cola China.

"All company products comply with the national standards," Coke said in a statement issued late yesterday. "Recent tests conducted by relevant authorities in the US and the UK on the issue showed that all the products of the Coca-Cola Company meet the applicable safety standards."

Pepsi also insisted that the benzene levels in its products meet safety standards. It also promised to pay close attention to the case and ensure its products continue to be in line with relevant regulations.

(Shanghai Daily March 8, 2006)

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