After more than a century’s absence, the extract from coca leaves may be returning to soft drinks.
An agreement signed last week between Ecuador and Bolivia means that products, including soft drinks, cosmetics, and food products, may be manufactured in Ecuador using by-products of Bolivian coca leaves.
Following its founding in the late 1880s until 1903, the U.S. soft drink Coca-Cola company contained a significant dose of coca extract, know today as cocaine. Company founder and Atlanta pharmacist John Pemberton was so impressed with the “coca boost” he named his product after it. Only after some of Pemberton’s regional bottlers began adding too much cocaine and getting complaints from local governments, did the company replace it with caffeine.
The agreement signed in La Paz by Ecuador and Bolivia Foreign Ministers David Choquehuanca and Guillaume Long allows Ecuadorian companies to legally manufacture, sell and export products containing coca extract.
“All products using coca would be regulated and certified by the government to make sure they meet health standards,” Long said of the agreement. “It also means Bolivia can legally export coca leaves to Ecuador.”
Long added that several Ecuadorian companies are interested in producing products containing coca extract and said the government is working quickly to develop standards to allow production to begin.
“We are very pleased with this agreement and the fact that it recognizes the healthy attributes of coca,” Bolivia’s Choquehuanca said at the signing. “For too long, coca has been vilified because of its role in illegal drug use, but it can also produce very healthy products when processed legally.”
Currently, coca tea is sold legally in Ecuador, Bolivia, and Peru, but other products are prohibited under United Nations drug regulations.