The stakeholder teleconference will involve a brief presentation by Joshua Sharfstein, M.D., principal deputy commissioner, FDA, and Robert Brewer, Ph.D., Alcohol Program Leader, National Center for Chronic Disease Prevention and Health Promotion, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, followed by a question and answer session. The moderator for the teleconference will be Lawrence Bachorik, Assistant Commissioner, Office of External Relations, Office of External Affairs, FDA.
Stakeholder Teleconference: Caffeinated Alcoholic Beverages
Call-in number: Domestic: 888-972-6517; International: 630-395-0368
Participant pass code: "FDA1″
Replay number: Domestic: 888-402-8742; International: 203-369-3723
Replay pass code: 9851
What this is about:
Ever ahead of the game, The New York Times announced yesterday that the FDA would soon be doing something about the caffeinated alcohol beverages that have caused so much trouble on college campuses recently (see previous post on this).
Today, Phusion Projects, the maker of the drink, says it will voluntarily take the caffeine out of Four Loko.
Why? In a statement, Phusion Projects explains:
We are taking this step after trying—unsuccessfully—to navigate a difficult and politically-charged regulatory environment at both the state and federal levels....We have repeatedly contended—and still believe, as do many people throughout the country—that the combination of alcohol and caffeine is safe...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....By taking this action today, we are again demonstrating leadership, cooperation and responsible corporate citizenship.
Yeah, right. Irish coffees are hardly considered party drinks.
Phusion Projects is acting because it is being forced to. FoodSafetyNews has kept score. So far, Oklahoma, Michigan, Utah, and Washington have banned drinks that combine caffeine with alcohol. New York's largest beer distributors have stopped selling the drinks. And several colleges have banned the drinks on campuses.
And where are the regulatory agencies in all this? Alcohol beverages are not regulated by the FDA. They are regulated by the Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau (TTB) of the Treasury department. From the government's standpoint, alcohol is about tax revenues, not health. As Phusion Projects explains, all this is TTB's fault:
If our products were unsafe, we would not have expected the federal agency responsible for approving alcoholic beverage formulas—the Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau (TTB)—to have approved them. Yet, all of our product formulas and packaging were reviewed and approved by the TTB before being offered to consumers.
Why is the FDA involved in this at all? Because it regulates food additives—like caffeine and the other supplements put into energy drinks.
If this incident illustrates anything, it's that alcohol beverages require the same kind of scrutiny given to any other food product and their regulation needs to move to an agency that cares about their effects on health.
This post also appears on foodpolitics.com.