Is there cocaine in Red Bull Cola?
Red Bull Cola has recently been released here in the United States — it is not considered purely an “energy drink” like the more familiar Red Bull product, but is sold as a “Cola”. About a year ago, the makers of Red Bull, the famous caffeine and sugar loaded “energy drink” decided to develop a soda. The “Red Bull” brand would hopefully imply the same big kick to drinkers of the cola beverage. But could the cola’s boost, which is advertised on the can and by the makers as “100% natural”, come from something more sinister than sugar and B vitamins?
Officials in Germany worry that the inclusion of an ingredient linked to cocaine in Red Bull Cola could cause health problems. Germany has since prohibited the soda’s sale in six states across the country and wil soon recommend a nation wide ban of Red Bull Cola.
The head of the food safety department at Germany’s federal ministry for consumer protection told the German press on Sunday that the inclusion of de-cocainized extract of coca leaf is just as illegal as including actual cocaine in the beverage. According to the German government’s analysis, the cola includes 0.13 micrograms of cocaine per can of the drink but does not pose a serious health threat. The German government readily admits you’d have to drink 12,000 liters of Red Bull Cola to feel any negative effects, but government officials still feel the presence of coca leaf extract is enough to cause concern. The final verdict on the health impact of Red Bull Cola will be given on Wednesday, May 27th by the German government.
Red Bull has been nothing but open about the recipe for its new cola. On the Red Bull Cola website, visitors can see clear pictures of coca, cardamom, Kola nuts, and other key “natural” ingredients. The company insists that coca leaves are used as a “flavoring agent” — they have proven that the illegal cocaine alkaloid has been removed from the extract. “De-cocainized extract of coca leaf is used worldwide in foods as a natural flavoring,” said a Red Bull spokesman. In fact, some sources say that Coca-Cola still includes extract from the trujillo leaves of the coca plant as part of its secret flavoring formula.
In Germany, the Red Bull spokesperson insisted that his company’s product, along with other products known to contain the coca leaf extract, are considered safe in Europe and the U.S. Nutrition and food experts have come to Red Bull’s defense — “There is no scientific basis for this ban on Red Bull Cola because the levels of cocaine found are so small,” Fritz Soergel, the head of the Institute for Biomedical and Pharmaceutical Research, tells Time magazine. “According to the tests we carried out, it’s a nonactive degradation product with no effect on the body. If you start examining lots of other drinks and food [this] carefully, you’d find a lot of surprising things,” he says.
Coca leaves, of course, have a notorious presence in modern soda pop history. Most notorious is the “original” Coca-Cola whose 19th century formula used unprocessed coca leaves. By the early 1900s, the company said it would only use decocainized coca leaves, though the company refuses to release any information about the “secret” formula, though one must assume that the FDA has tested the popular soda product and declared it safe.
No one knows where Red Bull Cola’s coca leaves come from or where they are processed. Red Bull has not yet responded to any media outlet’s requests for comment, but the Austrian food company that manufactures Red Bull Cola was quick to make a statement on the subject, namely that the company is not allowed to speak about the product.
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