• Watchdog names four companies
  • Says drinks are potentially "hazardous"
  • Four Loko maker defends the sector
Three of the caffeinated alcoholic drinks named by the FDA in its report

Three of the caffeinated alcoholic drinks named by the FDA in its report

The US Food and Drug Administration has threatened to seize stocks of certain branded, caffeinated alcoholic drinks unless their producers agree to cut out the caffeine.

The action comes amid renewed public debate on the safety of alcoholic drinks containing caffeine and follows a year-long review of evidence by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA).

The watchdog said today (17 November) that it has written warning letters to four manufacturers: Charge Beverages Corp, which produces Core High Gravity and Lemon Lime Core drinks; New Century Brewing Co, which makes Moonshot; United Brands Co, which sells Joose and Max drinks; and Phusion Projects, which makes the Four Loko drink.

Phusion's Four Loko has been at the centre of fresh controversy over caffeinated alcoholic drinks and the group announced today that it would remove caffeine, guarana and taurine from the beverage.

"FDA does not find support for the claim that the addition of caffeine to these  alcoholic beverages is ‘generally recognised as safe (GRAS)’, which is the legal standard,” said the FDA's principal deputy commissioner, Dr Joshua Sharfstein. "To the contrary, there is evidence that the combinations of caffeine and alcohol in these products pose a public health concern."

The FDA said peer-reviewed studies suggest that the consumption of beverages containing added caffeine and alcohol is associated with risky behaviours that may lead to hazardous and life-threatening situations. Phusion's Four Loko hit the headlines last month after several students were allegedly hospitalised after consuming the drink, among other beverages.

The FDA said that it has performed its own laboratory tests on so-called alcoholic energy drinks. It warned consumers to avoid the drinks brands named in its report today. Each of the four firms has 15 days to respond to the watchdog, otherwise the agency may seek court action against them.

Phusion said today that, while it will acquiesce to regulatory pressure, it does not believe that Four Loko is unsafe. "If it were unsafe, popular drinks like rum and colas or Irish coffees that have been consumed safely and responsibly for years would face the same scrutiny that our products have recently faced," said the group.

The US states of Michigan and Washington have banned alcoholic drinks with caffeine and several other states are expected to follow suit. 

Alcoholic drinks containing caffeine flavouring, but not actual caffeine, are not considered a risk by the FDA.