A Lagos High court on Monday ordered the National Agency for Food, Drug Administration and Control (NAFDAC) to mandate the Nigerian Bottling Company Limited (NBC), producers of Fanta and Sprite non-alcoholic beverages to include health warnings on its label which says that the drinks cannot be taken with Vitamin C.
Justice Adedayo Oyebanji gave the order while delivering a judgement on a case brought before it by a Lagos businessman, Dr. Emmanuel Fijabi Adebo of Fijabi Adebo Holdings Ltd against NBC and NAFDAC
In the case, the court ruled in favour of the claimant, Fijabi Adebo, awarding him the sum of N2m against NAFDAC for failing “to live up to expectations”. The court berated the regulatory agency for failing the citizens of Nigeria by its certification as satisfactory for human consumption drinks which upon sample test carried out in the United Kingdom (UK) failed sample test and was discovered to become poisonous in the presence of Ascorbic Acid ordinarily known as vitamin C, which the judge said could be freely taken by unsuspecting members of the public with Fanta and Sprite.
Mr. Adebo had urged the court to declare that Nigerian Bottling Company was unmindful and breached the duty of care owed to its customers and consumers in the production of what it argued was contaminated Fanta and Sprite soft drinks with excessive “benzoic acid and sunset” addictive.
Mr. Adebo urged the court to instruct NAFDAC to perform regular laboratory analysis of all soft drinks and allied products of NBC to ensure and guarantee the safety of the consumable products, produced at its factories.
Counsel to Mr. Adebo, Mr. Abiodun Onidare in an amended statement of claim alleged that in March 2007, Fijabi Adebo Holdings procured large quantities of Coca-Cola, Fanta Orange, Sprite, Fanta Lemon, Fanta Pineapple and Soda Water from the Nigerian Bottling Company for export to the UK, meant to be retailed to its customers in the UK.
However, when the consignment of soft drinks arrived in the UK, they failed UK Health Authorities sample test for human consumption which were carried out by the Stockport Metropolitan Borough Council’s Trading Standards Department of Environmental and Economy Directorate. Fanta and Sprite were said to become poisonous when mixed with Ascorbic Acid (Vitamin C).
The claimants demanded N15m ($47,702) as special damages and N1.6m ($5088) being the money NBC admitted it received as sales from the claimant.
However, Mr. T.O. Busari, defence counsel representing NBC in its amended defense filed by its lawyer, admitted selling the products to the claimant but contended that the products manufactured by the company were meant for local distribution and consumption in Nigeria and not for export.
It denied being negligent in the manufacturing of its products as alleged noting that the company maintains stringent quality control procedures in its production process to ensure its products were safe for consumption.
The company denied that the damage alleged by the claimant were as a result of its negligence as the level of chemical components in its soft drinks is safe for consumption in Nigeria.
NAFDAC did not file any defense.
Delivering her judgement, Justice Oyebanji said, “It is imperative to state that the knowledge of the Nigerian Bottling Company that the products were to be exported is immaterial to its being fit for human consumption. The court is in absolute agreement with the learned counsel for the claimants that soft drinks manufactured by Nigeria Bottling Company ought to be fit for human consumption irrespective of colour or creed.
The judge had sharp words for NAFDAC whom she said have failed the citizens of Nigeria by certifying as satisfactory for human consumption products which failed sample test for same in the UK.
As part of her judgement, NAFDAC was ordered to mandate Nigerian Bottling Company to, within 90 days of the judgement, include on all the bottles of Fanta and Sprite soft drinks manufactured by the company a written warning that the content of bottles of Fanta and Sprite soft drinks cannot be taken with Vitamin C as same becomes poisonous if taken with Vitamin C.
She added, “That NAFDAC shall forthwith mandate “In consideration of the fact that this case was filed in 2008 and that it has been in court for nine years, costs of N2 million is awarded against NAFDAC. Interest shall be paid on the costs awarded at the rate of 10% per annum until liquidation of the said sum.”
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