x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 21 January 2018

UAE testing Red Bull drinks for possible traces of cocaine

Samples of Red Bull energy drinks are sent to laboratories for analysis after traces of cocaine are found in some of the company's products abroad.

Officials are currently testing Red Bull to find out if it has cocaine as an ingredient.
Officials are currently testing Red Bull to find out if it has cocaine as an ingredient.

Samples of Red Bull energy drinks in the UAE have been sent to laboratories for analysis after traces of cocaine were found in some of the company's products in Germany, Hong Kong and Taiwan. The General Secretariat of Municipalities (GSM) sent out a circular on Sunday calling for the energy drinks to be tested after reports of the illegal substance being detected in Red Bull products in other countries, an official said.

"There have been samples taken and they are on their way to these laboratories." Red Bull said, however, that it was "absolutely impossible" to find cocaine traces in its energy drinks. In a statement from its Dubai-based Middle East and Africa office, the company cited analysis by the Austrian Belan Institute which concluded the beverages were cocaine-free. It said it used "de-cocainised" coca leaf extract as flavouring in one of its drinks, Red Bull Simply Cola, sold only in the US, Germany, Austria, Switzerland and Russia.

The GSM official said the UAE was conducting its own investigation before coming to any conclusions. "We have to check, we have to wait and see what kind of contamination there is and then if there is any problem, definitely we will take action," he said. Dubai Government officials said they were waiting for guidance from Abu Dhabi Municipality before deciding on their next step. On Tuesday, two of Hong Kong's largest supermarket chains, ParkNShop and Wellcome, pulled Red Bull drinks from their shelves after the Department of Health and Centre for Food Safety said it found "extremely low" levels of cocaine in Red Bull Cola, Red Bull Sugar-Free and Red Bull Energy Drink imported from Austria and the UK. The Hong Kong department said it found trace amounts, which ranged from 0.1 to 0.3 micrograms per can, but normal consumption of the beverage would not have any detrimental or psychotropic effects.

The UAE has a zero-tolerance drug policy, however, and some offenders with trace amounts of cannabis have been sentenced to four years in jail. The government of Jordan and several German states have asked retailers to stop selling Red Bull drinks. . Taiwanese authorities confiscated nearly 18,000 cases imported from Austria after tests detected cocaine in Red Bull beverages. However, the Hong Kong government said tests on further samples of Red Bull on Tuesday did not find any cocaine.

Abela Supermarkets, Abu Dhabi Co-operative Society and Al Maya Supermarkets said they would continue to sell Red Bull drinks unless they were told otherwise by government authorities. "The general plan is that it will remain on sale until instructed by the municipality," said David Berrick, the retail general manager of Abela. Duncan James, strategy director with consultancy Brand Union in the Middle East, said Red Bull was a prominent brand in the region because of its popularity in nightclubs and through events such as the Abu Dhabi Red Bull Air Race.

The company must address the cocaine allegations directly to prevent long-term damage to the brand, especially in the UAE, he said. aligaya@thenational.ae * With files from agencies