Amid increasing scrutiny of the fast-growing energy drink industry, federal health officials are investigating reports that five people have died since 2009 after consuming Monster Beverage Corp.'s energy drinks.
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration said it hadn't established a link between Monster energy drinks and the reports it has received concerning five deaths and another non-fatal heart attack. The government inquiry comes after a Maryland couple sued the Corona company last week in California for negligence and wrongful death in connection with the death of their 14-year-old daughter, Anais Fournier.
She is one of the five reported deaths, which came to light in a public-records request filed in her case, her lawyers said.
These disclosures triggered a sell-off Monday in Monster Beverage shares, which plummeted $7.59, or 14%, to $45.73.
A spokesman for Monster Beverage said the company "does not believe that its beverages are in any way responsible for the death of Ms. Fournier" and said it intends to vigorously defend itself in the case. The company added that it's "unaware of any fatality anywhere that has been caused by its drinks."
As part of its safety surveillance, the FDA routinely receives reports of adverse events tied to certain consumer products, drugs and medical devices. FDA spokeswoman Shelly Burgess said the agency is looking into the Monster reports but hadn't reached any conclusions about any "causal link."
Some lawmakers and consumer advocates are calling for tougher regulation of energy drinks sold by Monster, Red Bull and beverage giants such as Coca-Cola Co. and PepsiCo Inc. These highly caffeinated and sometimes sugar-laden drinks, including top sellers 5-Hour Energy and Rockstar, have become popular pick-me-ups for a wide range of consumers and are heavily marketed as a way to boost performance, focus or overall health.
Last year, energy drink sales grew nearly 17%, according to industry publication Beverage Digest, and Monster led the industry with a 35% market share. Monster's net sales rose 28% to $592.6 million in the quarter ended June 30 compared with the same period a year ago.
In April, Sen. Richard Durbin (D-Ill.) asked the FDA to investigate the caffeine levels and safety of other additives in energy drinks, particularly in light of their appeal among young people. Durbin noted that one 16-ounce can of Monster has 160 milligrams of caffeine, equivalent to almost five cans of a regular soft drink. The American Academy of Pediatrics advises against adolescents' consuming more than 100 milligrams of caffeine daily.
The FDA has authority to regulate caffeine levels in soft drinks, and the limit in a 12-ounce soda is about 71 milligrams. But most energy drinks exceed those levels because they are labeled as dietary supplements. Critics call for energy-drink makers to provide regulators with evidence that common additives in the drinks, such as guarana, taurine and ginseng, are safe when combined with other ingredients.
A federal report last year called energy-drink consumption a rising public health concern because excessive caffeine intake can cause medical and behavioral issues. Emergency-room visits related to energy drinks jumped from 1,128 in 2005 to 13,114 in 2009, according to the report by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration.
The FDA spokeswoman said the agency is looking into the "emerging science" on a variety of ingredients, including caffeine.
In the lawsuit filed last week, Wendy Crossland and Richard Fournier said their daughter had consumed two 24-ounce Monster energy drinks in a 24-hour period in December. A few hours after drinking the second can of Monster, Anais Fournier went into cardiac arrest and never regained consciousness, according to the suit. Her autopsy report attributed her death to "cardiac arrhythmia due to caffeine toxicity."
The family alleges that Monster fails to warn consumers about the potential risks related to its drinks.
"The downsides are not printed anywhere on these cans," said Alexander R. Wheeler, a Los Angeles attorney representing Anais' parents. "Her parents want to make sure this never happens to another family."
A spokesman for Monster said the company's "ingredients and labeling are in full compliance with all laws and regulations governing beverage products in each of the more than 70 countries in which it is sold."