Starbucks accused over 'lethal' herb in tea

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Starbucks, the Seattle-based coffee giant, is fending off allegations this weekend that it secretly adds a potentially lethal stimulant to its popular Tazo Chai Tea product.

A public interest group in California that calls itself the Council for Education and Research on Toxics is suing Starbucks, claiming the firm has been adding ephedrine, a herbal supplement also known as ephedra, to the tea.

Ephedrine contains alkaloids that stimulate the central nervous system. It is a main ingredient in many herbal dietary supplements to curb the appetite. Side-effects, however, can include tremors, elevated blood pressure and in the most serious instances bleeding in the brain. The Food and Drug Agency in the United States has linked ephedrine to 50 deaths in the country over a period of five years and wants the drug banned.

A lawyer for the group now suing Starbucks, Raphael Metzger, said that ephedrine showed up consistently when the tea products were tested by an independent laboratory. But Starbucks countered that claim. "We have tested Chai Tea for the presence of ephedrine and the results have been conclusively negative," a spokeswoman said.