Beverage importer allowed to sell energy drink

The content originally appeared on: Trinidad and Tobago Newsday

Sting energy drink. –

STING Red Strawberry and Sting Gold energy drinks will be back on the shelves after a local beverage importer has successfully obtained a High Court order to allow him to sell the drink imported from Vietnam.

The order was made on July 11 by Justice Frank Seepersad allowing Rollin Marketing Company Ltd (RMCL) to sell the energy drinks.

On April 24, Seepersad granted leave to RMCL, of Couva, to pursue its claim against the chief chemist/director of the Food and Drugs Division (FDD) of the Ministry of Health who prevented him from selling the Sting beverages.

The company’s managing director, Naren Mahadeosingh, said as part of its import business, RMCL purchased beverages from many countries, including Vietnam.

He said on January 25, the chief chemist directed RMCL to refrain from distributing or selling a consignment of 380 cases of Sting Red Strawberry and 1,520 cases of Sting Gold until they were tested for possible contaminants.

The company filed its lawsuit to have the court declare the decisions of the chief chemist illegal. It also sought a declaration that the decision to have the cases of drinks subjected to tests for total coliform, staphylococcus aureus, faecal coliform and e-coli after duty and taxes were paid is procedurally improper and irrational.

The distributor said the consignments, purchased from the Phu Quang Service and Trade Company Ltd in Vietnam, expire in August and RMCL paid $44,686.23 in duties to clear the goods.

The company further contended that despite the goods having already been released and found fit for distribution and consumption, the decision was taken for the drinks to be tested.

Rollins Marketing said samples were taken to the Caribbean Industrial Research Institute (Cariri) laboratory at the University of the West Indies, St Augustine, which reported that the samples provided were within acceptable standards.

“Despite the results and scientific findings of the said report the intended defendant continues to prevent the intended claimant from distributing and selling its consignment of goods.

“There is a real and serious danger that due to the intended defendant’s decision, the consignment will expire and the intended claimant will be unable to sell its goods.”

At Tuesday’s hearing, the judge noted that the chief chemist now had concerns about the caffeine content. He asked if there was a prescribed regulatory framework for such drinks.

“What is not an acceptable level? I have difficulty accepting the defendant’s position. I am not seeing the basis by which the chief chemist is adopting the position these goods ought not to be distributed for sale.

“One cannot operate in public office with a degree of arbitrariness. If there is legislation, medical evidence, or regulations on caffeine content, then say so.”

He also pointed out that the UWI and Cariri cleared the items, “so there no rational basis for preventing the distribution of the product.”

After standing down the matter to allow the State’s attorneys to get further instructions, Farz Khan, chief chemist/director of the FDD, admitted there was no specific mention of caffeine levels in the Food and Drug regulations. He also raised an issue with labelling requirements under the Food and Drugs Act.

Rollins Marketing’s lead attorney Kelvin Ramkissoon countered the State’s position.

In granting the interim order, Seepersad said he had reservations that a product was being withheld, with possible financial repercussions, without information that the public’s health could be compromised.

He adjourned the matter to July 8 when he is likely to give a ruling providing clarity on what requirements importers would have to meet when bringing in these types of beverages.

“I think there is a legitimate issue on the interpretation of the regulations to be determined.”

Also representing RMCL is Nizam Saladeen. Attorneys Rachel Jacob and Rishma Jagroop represented the State.