Red Bull and France

Stories about Red Bull being banned in France must be making the company's boss Dietrich Mateschitz smile all the way to the bank. Red Bull likes to be seen as a slightly subversive product and this has been hugely helpful in building up the company's image of being out there on the edge rather than being dull and wholesome like some of its rivals.

France and Red Bull have been squabbling since 1996 when the Conseil Superieur de l'Hygiene Publique de France ruled that the drink had excessive concentrations of caffeine which were a risk for pregnant women and might cause sportsmen to test positive in doping tests. Prior to that Red Bull had waited seven months for acknowledgment of its application for authorisation to market its product in France, and more than two years for the refusal. The European Commission decided to take the French government to the European Court of Justice over the case on the grounds that the French had failed to fulfil its obligations to guarantee the free movement of general foodstuffs. The case was considered in June 2001 and and the court ruled that the French had failed to meet their obligations to the European Union but that accepted that competent national authorities do have the right to monitor imported foods. The commission returned with a similar case in February 2004 and got the same ruling but there is no reason to assume that this will have any effect on the F1 programme. The sponsorship has been allowed on the cars sponsored by Red Bull throughout the dispute but it is useless to advertise in France because the product is not available. Red Bull can survive without France. It sells 1.6bn cans worldwide each year and the product is available in 100 countries. In the course of 2005 new European legislation will go through which means that Red Bull and other energy drinks will have to carry warnings that they have a high caffeine content. This may make it impossible for the French to go on complaining. The French are very unwilling to move on the questions of additives because they are keen to protect traditional foie gras and cheeses which would otherwise be pushed out of the market by foreign imitations.

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