Italy currently restricts the sale of energy drinks to those containing less than 125mg per litre but the majority of energy drinks on the EU market contain significantly more than this amount.
In a case brought by manufacturers of sports nutrition products last year, the European Court of Justice ruled that Italy had not shown any alleged risk to public health from caffeine-containing products, which would allow it to impose such restrictions. Also its prior authorisation procedure makes the marketing of such foods more difficult and expensive, said the ECJ.
The Commission said on Friday that it has sent Italy a letter of formal notice 'reminding' it of its obligation to apply last year's ECJ judgement and amend its legislation under EC treaty rules for free movement of goods among member states. Member states which fail to comply with a judgment of the Court of Justice could face a fine.
France also bans the high-caffeine drink Red Bull from sale but the ECJ did not object to the ban because French scientists have stated in an opinion that its high caffeine content poses real risks to public health if consumed to excess.
The markets for energy drinks in both countries is considerably smaller than in the UK, with a 26 per cent share of total West European volume, or Germany with 20 per cent of the 311 million litres consumed in 2003, according to Zenith figures. The category grew by 6.5 per cent last year, translating into a market value of €2,340 million.