The Coca-Cola Co is phasing out the preservative sodium benzoate (E211) from its Diet Coke brand in the UK with expectations of complete removal by August, the company confirmed today (30 May).

The preservative, which is present in other Coca-Cola products including Dr Pepper, Fanta, Oasis, Sprite and Schweppes, was subject to controversy last year when research studies indicated that it may cause hyperactivity and DNA damage.

The company said that drinks with higher juice content "need the preservative to guarantee product stability and safety."

"Like all the ingredients we use, sodium benzoate is safe, and is a substance that prevents spoilage," the company said in a statement. "We defer to the European Food Standards Agency who, along with other product safety authorities worldwide, has approved it in a wide range of products including bakery products, wines, fruits, vegetables, meats and seafood. Sodium benzoate occurs naturally in many fruits, especially cranberries, often at significant levels compared to what is used as a preservative."

The phasing out of sodium benzoate concerns UK cans of Diet Coke only at present as the company said there are no satisfactory alternatives yet for its other drinks.

"Where there is an alternative we will use it and so are always looking for different ingredient opportunities," a spokesperson told just-drinks.

Coca-Cola said the decision to remove E211 from Diet Coke was based on the consumer's demand for more natural products.

"We recognise changing consumer needs and for a number of years we have been moving towards non-artificial colours, flavours and preservatives, where technically possible, in our drinks," the company added.