Benzene scare has soft drinks makers in a fizz

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America's powerful Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has launched a full-scale investigation after benzene, the same cancer-causing chemical that contaminated Perrier water, was discovered in soft drinks.

The UK Food Standards Agency (FSA) has also confirmed that it is investigating on the back of the FDA's concerns, and will launch a full probe if the chemical is discovered.

An FSA spokeswoman said: "We are making inquiries. If soft drinks were found to be contaminated with benzene, the agency would conduct a thorough assessment to determine the risk to public health, and take action accordingly."

The FDA was alerted to the possible existence of benzene in soft drinks a month ago. It is understood to be concerned about the long-term effects on health. Claims were made that the popular preservative sodium benzoate can, in certain cases, react with vitamin C (also used as a preservative) to create benzene.

It is understood that the FDA has since confirmed the claims are true. The FDA has the power to pull products off shelves.

Sodium benzoate is widely used in the drinks sector. In the UK it is used in Britvic brands including Britvic 55 apple and orange flavours, Pennine Spring flavoured waters and Shandy Bass. The additive is also found in Robinsons Fruit Shoot, but, before the FDA probe, the company had decided to stop using it. From 3 April, the drink will be made without it.

Dr Pepper and 7-Up giant Cadbury Schweppes refused to say which of their brands used sodium benzoate. A spokesman insisted: "Many years ago we reviewed all our recipes. We're confident this problem will not occur."

A Britvic spokesman was also confident its products would not be affected: "As every production line comes off, we take samples and test, so we're sure that it's safe."

Benzene was found in Perrier 15 years ago. The company had to withdraw millions of bottles.