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Shoppers welcome group’s effort to label caffeine amounts in food

August 1, 1997

CHEVY CHASE, Md. (AP) _ When Maria Guzman drinks a cup of coffee, ``it’s like drinking energy,″ the caffeine lover says.

But consumers do not always know that other foods _ from ice cream to orange soda pop _ can sometimes pack just as much of a caffeine punch, consumer groups worry.

They want the government to force food makers to put precise amounts on the labels of everything sold in stores that contains caffeine. That way, pregnant women and others advised to avoid caffeine would have enough information to do so, the groups say.

Even though she is wary of government intrusion, Brenda Spillane likes that idea.

``I know we are over-regulated, but I find it really makes me jumpy,″ said the 46-year-old mother of two from Burtonsville, Md., shopping for groceries in this Washington suburb. ``I think it’s a good idea.″

``We need as much information as we can get,″ added 78-year-old Leon Rothenberg of Chevy Chase.

But Guzman, the 42-year-old caffeine lover from Chevy Chase, is indifferent to the idea. Caffeine is not a worry, she says.

The Food and Drug Administration said Thursday it will consider the petition from the Center for Science in the Public Interest, the Consumer Federation of America and other activist groups. The American Medical Association also is preparing to ask the FDA to list caffeine amounts in foods.

``People have a right to consume caffeine. But they also have the right to know how much caffeine they’re consuming,″ said Patricia Lieberman of CSPI.

Right now, the government warns only pregnant women about caffeine consumption and says that even for them there’s no proof of risk. Still, just to be sure, the FDA advises pregnant women to avoid caffeine or use it sparingly.

But the FDA requires foods only to list caffeine as an ingredient, raising questions about how a pregnant woman would judge how much to consume.

Take orange soda, for example. Sunkist’s 12-ounce can has 40 milligrams of caffeine but Minute Maid’s 12-ounce can has none.

An 8-ounce cup of regular brewed coffee has 135 mg and instant coffee 95 mg. But flavored coffees vary widely: An 8-ounce cup of General Foods International’s orange cappuccino has 102 mg while the company’s Viennese Chocolate Cafe has just 50.

A cup of Ben & Jerry’s coffee-fudge frozen yogurt has 85 mg while Healthy Choice’s cappuccino mocha fudge ice cream has just 8 mg.

Even regular soft drinks are not equivalent: A 12-ounce can of Coca-Cola has 45 mg of caffeine and Diet Coke has 47 mg, while Pepsi has 37 mg. Sprite and 7-UP have none.

Lipton Tea voluntarily says on its labels that an 8-ounce cup of tea provides 35-40 mg, but the food industry in general opposes mandatory labeling.

Industry officials contend that because the ingredient is safe, how much foods contain is irrelevant. Consumers can get the amount by calling the manufacturer’s toll-free telephone number listed on every food package, said Rhona Applebaum of the National Food Processors Association.

FDA food policy expert George Pauli said the agency’s decision will be based on laws that require ingredient amounts to be listed if there are ``consequences″ to eating different levels.

Certainly, there are some concerns.

CSPI argued that too much caffeine can cause insomnia or anxiety; some studies have suggested more than three cups of coffee a day lower women’s chances of getting pregnant and some doctors warn that caffeine may lower calcium absorption.

The AMA says caffeine may give certain ulcer patients more stomach acid and some heart patients a rapid or irregular heartbeat.

``We are not saying it’s dangerous,″ emphasized the AMA’s Dr. Richard Corlin, a California gastroenterologist. ``But there are some people who, for one medical condition or another, are sensitive to the effects of it.″

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