Phusion Projects Four Loko drink has reignited debate

Phusion Projects' Four Loko drink has reignited debate

The US Food & Drug Administration has said that it is still considering whether to ban the sale of alcoholic drinks containing caffeine in the country.

Officials at the safety watchdog told just-drinks yesterday (4 November) that they have yet to be convinced that the drinks are either safe or legal.

Alcoholic drinks containing caffeine have returned to the spotlight in the last fortnight after several college students in the US were hospitalised after allegedly consuming the Four Loko caffeinated alcoholic drink. Yesterday, the US state of Michigan announced that it would ban 55 drinks that combine alcohol and caffeine. 

The Food & Drug Administration (FDA) has been reviewing the situation for almost 12 months. "It is FDA’s position that these type (caffeinated-alcohol) of beverages are not 'generally recognised as safe' (GRAS) and therefore we have concerns about their safety and legality," an FDA spokesperson said yesterday.

"Since the FDA is unaware of the basis by which manufacturers conclude these type of beverages are GRAS, we have asked them to provide evidence," he said, adding: "We are going through that review process right now."

The FDA's probe was sparked by pressure from Attorneys General for 19 US states, as well as other lawmakers and scientists across the country.

Producers argue that their drinks face unfair criticism and that consumers have been mixing caffeine with alcohol, in combinations such as vodka and Red Bull, for years. "Curbing alcohol abuse on college campuses will not be accomplished by singling out a lone product or beverage category," said the producer of Four Loko, Phusion Projects.

In 2008, the top two brewers in the US, Anheuser-Busch InBev and MillerCoors, agreed to cease selling caffeinated alcoholic drinks in the country. A-B InBev reformulated its Tilt and Bud Extra brands, while MillerCoors took caffeine out of its Sparks brand, following pressure from Attorneys General.