Sure the FDA can protect you from any thing bad in your food or drugs.

Newly found report shows FDA knew of benzene in soft drinks

David Goldstein Knight Ridder Newspapers Apr. 8, 2006 12:00 AM

WASHINGTON - A newly discovered Food and Drug Administration report shows the agency had data at least three years ago that some soft drinks had unsafe levels of cancer-causing benzene.

The Environmental Working Group, a non-profit scientific research organization, found the data recently in a June 2003 FDA report chronicling the level of contaminants and nutrients in food and beverages.

Known as the Total Diet Study, the report shows that from 1995 to 2001, nearly 80 percent of the diet cola that the FDA sampled had benzene levels higher than the limit allowable in drinking water. Among 24 diet cola samples, 19 had levels that were on average four times higher. The study did not identify brands.

Regular cola and some fruit drinks also showed excessive levels, although the number of samples tested as well as the levels detected in those products was lower.

The old report is significant because the FDA began testing for benzene recently after receiving evidence of unsafe amounts in some soft drinks. Food safety regulators had assumed the problem, which first surfaced in the early 1990s, had long ago been corrected.

"What it all means is the FDA is not being completely straight with the public," said Richard Wiles, the environmental group's senior vice president. "These data are surely available to FDA's scientists and officials. It raises questions about the sincerity of their efforts to keep benzene at safe levels in the food supply."

FDA officials have said there is no cause for alarm over the safety of soft drinks. Though results from current testing have yet to be made public, they said most samples show either low levels or none at all.

"Everything we know suggests the levels we're getting now are reliable and reflect what is in the marketplace now," said Laura Tarantino, director of the Office of Food Additive Safety. "The levels overall are very, very low."

Asked why the agency never acted on the 2003 findings, Tarantino said it had been relying on good test results from 1993. "There was just not a real focus on the issue," she said.

Benzene is a common chemical found in gasoline, car exhaust and tobacco smoke. Long-term exposure can cause cancers of the blood, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Manufacturers do not add benzene, but it can form when two ingredients react: ascorbic acid, known as vitamin C, and the preservatives, sodium benzoate or potassium benzoate. It usually takes exposure to light or heat to cause the reaction.

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