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Venezuela: Why We Banned Coke Zero

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CARACAS, Venezuela — Venezuela's Health Ministry said Friday it banned sales of Coca-Cola Zero because the company failed to declare that the no-calorie soft drink uses an artificial sweetener allegedly harmful to health.

Health officials said tests show the cola contains sodium cyclamate. Coca-Cola Co. disputes that, saying the product sold in Venezuela uses different artificial sweeteners, Acesulfame-K and Aspartame.

Cyclamate is not prohibited in Venezuela. But the ministry said the company failed to report sodium cyclamate as an ingredient in Coca-Cola Zero when it received its initial health permit to begin selling the drink in April.

Coca-Cola is "failing to comply with sanitary norms," the ministry said in a statement published in the newspaper Ultimas Noticias. The ministry urged Venezuelans to refrain from trying the drink, saying it is "considered harmful to the health."

The U.S. prohibits the use of cyclamates in human food because of health safety concerns. Sales of Coca-Cola Zero elsewhere in Latin America have met with resistance over the use of cyclamate.

Rosy Alvarez, a spokeswoman for Coca-Cola Servicios de Venezuela, told The Associated Press on Thursday that "no ingredient of Coca-Cola Zero is harmful to peoples' health." But the company is complying with Venezuela's ban and has begun halting production, she said.

Kerry Kerr, a spokeswoman at Coca-Cola headquarters in Atlanta, said Thursday that the company was in discussions with the Venezuelan government.

Coca-Cola sells many other soft drinks in Venezuela, including Coca-Cola Classic, Chinoto, Frescolita and Hit.