Herrera, AGs applaud FDA’s tough stance-finding alcoholic energy drinks ‘unsafe’

Consumption of AEDs among teens and college students have led to an increase of reports relating to alcohol poisoning, sexual assaults, and hospitalization

SAN FRANCISCO (Nov. 17, 2010) — City Attorney Dennis Herrera commends the U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s issuance of warning letters today to four manufacturers of alcoholic energy drinks (AEDs) stating that the caffeine and other stimulants in their alcoholic beverages, including popular brands Four Loko and Joose, are ‘unsafe food additives,’ making these products adulterated under federal law. Herrera will be working with state and local officials to determine the further steps necessary to ensure prompt removal of these dangerous products from the marketplace.

Last year, Herrera joined state attorneys general in asking the FDA to determine that the use of caffeine in alcoholic beverages is not “Generally Recognized as Safe,” or GRAS, under FDA law. In support of that request, experts in medicine, forensic toxicology, and public health submitted a report documenting the dangers presented by these beverages, whose caffeine and other stimulant ingredients mask — but do not offset — alcohol intoxication.

AEDs are alcoholic beverages to which caffeine and other stimulants, such as guarana, have been added at the point of manufacture. Packaged in 23.5 ounce cans resembling energy drinks with fruit flavors like Fruit Punch, Lemonade and Watermelon, some AEDs like Four Loko contain the alcohol equivalent of 5 or 6 beers and the caffeine equivalent of 1.5 cups of coffee in just one can.

Last November, FDA informed manufacturers of AEDs that FDA was not aware of any basis for concluding that the use of caffeine in alcoholic beverages is GRAS and gave them 30 days to submit substantiating data, warning that if it determined that the use of caffeine in their alcoholic beverages is not GRAS, FDA would take appropriate action to ensure that the products are removed from the marketplace. Over the past year, medical and public health research has continued to confirm the dangers presented, particularly among young people with whom these beverages are most popular.

“Following FDA’s year-long review, today’s action signifies a necessary and urgent step in removing these dangerous products from the market and away from youth,” said Herrera. “AEDs attract young people who wrongly believe that the caffeine will offset the intoxicating effects of the alcohol. These beliefs are fueled by aggressive youth-targeted marketing campaigns on social networking sites and college campuses that promote excessive drinking and enhanced abilities. I applaud the FDA’s issuance of Warning Letters rejecting the manufacturers’ unfounded claims that these products are safe.”

City Attorney Herrera has a long-standing concern regarding alcoholic energy drinks. In 2008, Chicago-based brewing company MillerCoors stopped producing all caffeinated alcoholic beverages, including its flagship product “Sparks,” following an agreement reached by the City Attorney and 13 state attorneys general.

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