Four Loko: Does FDA's Caffeinated Alcoholic Beverage Ban Go Too Far?

Article excerpt

The Food and Drug Administration has told four manufacturers of caffeinated alcoholic beverages, including the makers of Four Loko, to remove the caffeine from their drinks.

"These keep me going where other alcoholic drinks always drag me down," says Terry McAfee, a 20-something recent graduate of Pierce College in Woodland Hills, Calif.

He's just plunked down $12 for four 23 ounce cans of Four Loko - the combination alcohol-caffeine drink whose manufacturer, Phusion Projects, LLC was one of four companies to receive warning letters this week from the US Food and Drug Administration.

Although health-care professionals and addiction specialists have applauded the FDA, some groups agree with consumers such as Mr. McAfee that this is the latest example of a "nanny state" government pushing itself too far on the public.

Currently, under federal law, an ingredient can't be added to a food or beverage unless it has been approved by the FDA or is generally recognized as safe. The FDA has never approved caffeine as an additive to alcoholic beverages. The four companies sent warnings were given 15 days to remove caffeine from their products.

Caffeinated alcoholic drinks have made headlines over the last year, including a case last month when nine students at Central Washington University were hospitalized after drinking Four Loko at a party, earning the drink the nickname "blackout-in-a-can."

Now some states - Including Vermont, Massachusetts, and Michigan - have taken the step of banning he drinks. When word got out that the Massachusetts Alcoholic Beverage Control Commission had issued an emergency order for sellers to remove Four Loko from shelves Thursday, the reaction from some was to stock up - Boston blog site UniversalHub tweeted locations still selling the beverage.

Advocates of limited government say the FDA is going too far. "It's time the FDA started treating consumers old enough to purchase alcoholic beverages as adults," says Greg Conko, director of food and drug policy for the Competive Enterprise Institute (CEI), a nonprofit group that supports limited government.

He calls the FDA action a "power grab [that] will have little or no benefit for public safety. The FDA is making an unwarranted extrapolation to premixed commercial products in order to justify its regulatory overreach," he says. …