Monster Beverage changes label to qualify as "drink"

A lawsuit filed last year by the family of 14-year-old Anais Fournier said the girl went into cardiac arrest after drinking two 24-ounce cans of Monster drinks in a 24-hour period. The Food and Drug Administration is also investigating reports of deaths linked to energy drinks, including five that cite Monster beverages. Monster denied its products role in the girl's death, saying she had a pre-existing medical condition. Monster added its target market is 18 to 34-year-olds, but that its drinks are nevertheless safe for children. Five Hole for Food/Flickr

NEW YORK Monster Beverage (MNST) is changing the labeling on its cans so that its energy drinks will no longer be considered dietary supplements, a move that changes the federal guidelines the drinks must follow.

Monster's CEO told the industry tracker Beverage Digest that the cans will now list "Nutrition Facts" rather than "Supplement Facts," as well as disclosing caffeine content.

The change reflects the intensifying scrutiny energy drinks have come under over the past year, with lawmakers calling on the Food and Drug Administration to look into the safety of the caffeine levels and other ingredients used in the drinks. It also highlights the confusion consumers may encounter when it comes to the labeling of energy drinks, with companies having the discretion to categorize them as either dietary supplements or traditional drinks.

While Monster is currently categorized as a dietary supplement, for example, the No. 2 energy drink Red Bull is categorized as a traditional beverage.

Generally speaking, companies have more leeway in the ingredients they can add to dietary supplements. With products considered to be food or drinks, companies can only use ingredients that are approved food additives or that are "generally recognized as safe," said Elizabeth Campbell, a senior adviser at EAS Consulting Group, which specializes in FDA regulatory matters.

Among the issues lawmakers have raised over energy drinks is that they sometimes contain little-known ingredients, such as the taurine used in some Monster drinks. A spokesman for Monster Beverage was not able to confirm the report in Beverage Digest or whether the Corona, Calif., company would remove any ingredients as a result of any possible labeling changes.

Meanwhile, the FDA is still working on final rules for what qualifies as a beverage versus a dietary supplement. But the agency had issued guidance in 2009 noting that dietary supplements were being marketed in ways that suggested they were regular drinks. It also noted that products that use terms such as "drink", "juice" and "beverage" suggest they're conventional foods, rather than supplements.

Notably, companies that make dietary supplements are required to report incidents of adverse effects to the FDA while foodmakers do not. A spokeswoman for the FDA did not immediately know how many, if any, reports of adverse effects Monster had made to the agency.

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