May 19, 2006

Benzene found in some soft drinks, FDA says

By Lisa Richwine

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Government testing found the
cancer-causing chemical benzene in some soft drinks but not at
high enough levels to cause harm, U.S. regulators said on

Five out of more than 100 beverages tested had benzene in
amounts exceeding the limit set for U.S. drinking water - 5
parts per billion, the Food and Drug Administration said.

The agency said it asked manufacturers to minimize or
eliminate benzene levels in their products. All of the makers
contacted have reformulated the drinks or are in the process of
doing so, FDA officials said.

The agency tested samples of soft drinks and other
beverages from November 2005 through April 2006.

The benzene amounts detected "do not pose a safety concern
for consumers," the FDA said in a statement.

Most products had very low levels of benzene or none that
was detected, said Dr. Laura Tarantino, director of the FDA's
Office of Food Additive Safety.

Some levels were as high as 88 parts per billion, according
to data posted on the FDA Web site. There is no limit set for
soft drinks but regulators believe benzene levels should be
minimal, Tarantino said.

"Any benzene in soft drinks that can be avoided by the way
you formulate or package or distribute should be avoided.
That's what we're really asking," she said.

The drinks with benzene exceeding five parts per billion
were certain lots of Safeway Inc.'s Safeway Select Diet Orange;
Cadbury Schweppes Plc's Crush Pineapple; Giant Light Cranberry
Juice Cocktail, sold by Ahold unit Giant Food Inc.; Meridian
Beverage Co.'s AquaCal Strawberry Flavored Water Beverage, and
Kraft Food Inc.'s Crystal Light Sunrise Classic Orange.

Safeway reformulated its Select Diet Orange soda before it
was contacted by the FDA, company spokeswoman Teena Massingill
said. Representatives of the other makers could not immediately
be reached on Friday evening.

Benzene can form in soft drinks that contain vitamin C and
chemicals called benzoate salts when they are exposed to light
or high temperatures, the FDA said.

The American Beverage Association said the FDA's findings
were consistent with past reviews of benzene in soft drinks.

"Once again the FDA has reviewed the presence of benzene
and found no public health concern," spokesman Kevin Keane

The organization has issued guidelines to manufacturers on
ways to minimize benzene. It also noted that benzene has been
found in several foods.

"Bananas, ground beef, cheese, butter, eggs, avocados and
popsicles are among foods that have been found at times to have
benzene at levels greater than the water standard of 5 (parts
per billion). But again, the FDA has not issued health concerns
for those foods either," an association statement said.