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FDA threatens ban on alcoholic energy drinks

BY NORA HEATON | NOVEMBER 18, 2010 7:20 AM

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The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has given a big thumbs down to the uppers in the popular caffeine-ridden malt alcoholic drink known as Four Loko, along with similar drinks.

The FDA ruled Wednesday that four companies' caffeinated, alcoholic beverages are unsafe. The companies now have 15 days to explain to the agency in writing how they will work to correct the "unsafe food additive" violation of the federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act, according to a release — or else risk seizure of their products. The drinks in question include: Core High Gravity drinks, Moonshot, Four Loko, Joose, and Max.

Perhaps among the most controversial of the four is the beverage Four Loko, which Urban Dictionary has deemed "cocaine in a can."

The 23.5-ounce drink contains 12 percent alcohol — roughly the same as most wines — and holds about the amount of caffeine that lies in a Red Bull plus a cup of coffee.

On Tuesday, the Chicago-based Phusion Projects announced in a press release that it would remove caffeine, guarana, and taurine from its products nationwide.

Tom Rocklin, the University of Iowa vice president for Student Services, said although the alcoholic energy drinks are an issue the Partnership for Alcoholic Safety might tackle in future discussions, the UI is not in any position to ban the beverage on its own.

The Iowa Alcoholic Beverages Division is "thankful" abut the new FDA decision, said Tonya Dusold, the communications director for the division. Officials will wait to see how the next 15 days play out, and then determine the division's next step.

And some students, too, said they understand the public health risk that such drinks inflict.

UI sophomore Courtney Sorensen said she believes it is within the government's right to ban such a beverage.

"If it is really unhealthy for people, then something has to stop [the manufacturers] from making it," she said.

Phusion Projects' managing partners maintained that alcohol and caffeine mixes are not as deadly as some think.

"If it were unsafe, popular drinks such as 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," the Four Loko cofounders said in the release.

United Brands Co. also released a statement.

"We respect the decision of the FDA, will be reviewing the details of the new guidelines, and will be aligning new FDA rules with the demands of our loyal customer base," Michael Michail, CEO and president of the company, which produces Joose, said in a statement.

The FDA's release said the agency conducted a thorough scientific review of the drinks, including literature and discussions with experts in several fields, among them toxicology and emergency medicine. The agency also analyzed the product in its own labs.

The FDA's analysis follows independent bans from several states and universities — including the state of Washington and the University of Rhode Island.


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