Alleged alcohol content in cola drinks probed
JEDDAH: ESSAM AL-GHALIB & IBRAHIM NAFFEE - Tue, Jul 3rd 2012 7:24 AM
Sheikh Mohammed Al-Nujaimi, member of the International Islamic Fiqh Academy in Jeddah, has said that during the next meeting of the academy, a discussion will be held to determine whether drinking cola is permissible after a French study found they contained miniscule traces of alcohol.
“We are consulting with doctors, chemist and other experts on this topic,” said Al-Nujaimi. “We will be issuing a final fatwa about this by the beginning of next year when the academy meets.”
The Paris-based National Institute of Consumption (INC) has found that more than half the leading colas tested contained minute traces of alcohol. Only the cheap supermarket colas are alcohol free.
The study — published in 60 Million Consumers, a French magazine — revealed that of 19 colas tested, 10, including Coca-Cola and Pepsi, contained 0.001 percent alcohol, or 10mg in every liter. Though this may sound like a large amount, it is actually minute. A person would have to drink thousands of liters of cola to have the same effect as one glass of regular beer.
News of the study spread quickly to the Muslim world via the Internet and the Saudi local press, alarming many.
Following the release of the study, Pepsico and Coca-Cola were quick to issue statements.
“Pepsi products are of the highest quality and meet all local government and regulatory standards for non-alcoholic beverages,” Pepsi’s head office in Dubai said in a brief statement that did not address the alcohol content alleged by the study.
According to the British newspaper the Daily Mail, Coca-Cola France said: "It is possible that traces of alcohol come from the process" of making Coca Cola according to its secret recipe.
A spokesperson for Pepsi in Europe said, "Some soft drinks can contain minute traces of alcohol because of the ingredients used," but denied that its recipe contains alcohol.
Coca-Cola France’s Michel Pepin insisted that Coca-Cola drinks were probably “soft” and recognized as such by the government authorities in the countries they are sold in.
“Furthermore, the Paris Mosque has provided us with a certificate stating that our products can be consumed by the Muslim community in line with the religious opinions of the Committee of the Mosque of Paris,” Pepin added.
News of Coca-Cola and Pepsi containing miniscule amounts of alcohol were met with mixed reaction in Saudi Arabia.
Mohammed Al-Suhaili, 38, a Saudi father and government employee, said that he had read about the study in the Arabic press.
“It doesn’t really matter to me,” he said. “Everyone, including my wife and kids, drinks Pepsi. I’ve been drinking it for years and never felt anything. So I’m not going to stop now or make my family stop.”
Abdulhaq Saleh, 60, a devout Egyptian man who works in the private sector, was alarmed at the news.
“I had no idea,” he said. “I won’t buy it anymore and I won’t let my kids drink it. I don’t care that it contains only a tiny amount of alcohol. I will not drink it anymore.”
When it was explained to Saleh that alcohol was not one of the ingredients but resulted from the process of making the carbonated cola drinks, he was not moved.
“I’m still not going to buy it anymore,” he said.
“I don’t let my children drink soft drinks because of all the sugar in them,” said Fatima Al-Otaibi, 28, a Saudi housewife. “Now that Pepsi and Coke both admit that they may contain some alcohol, I can tell my children that it has alcohol in it and they won’t want to drink it themselves.”
“Many things we drink have tiny amounts of alcohol in them, so I am not impressed with this study,” said Mohammed Al-Turki, 38, a Saudi business owner. “I think if a more expansive study would be done, it will show that many things contain alcohol traces. This is all propaganda. I don’t believe it.”
Hani Youssef, 20, a Saudi store stocker, said he is addicted to Pepsi and will not stop drinking it. “Not until there is a fatwa issued by the grand mufti,” he said.
Coincidentally, four months ago, the Saudi Consumer Protection Agency began looking into the effects of soft drinks on schoolchildren and called on the Saudi Food and Drug Authority to investigate the possibility of soft drinks containing alcohol.
"In March we began urging fast food restaurants to provide juices instead of soft drinks to children as part of their kid’s menu,” said Naser Al-Tawaim, president of the Saudi Consumer Protection Association. “We have called the fast food restaurants in the Kingdom in March to encourage them to give fresh juice to kids instead of soft drinks. At the same time, we called on the Food and Drug Authority in the Kingdom to investigate the alcohol content in soft drinks and to clarify the risks to consumers.”