The FDA announced its intention on November 17 last year by sending warning letters to four companies - Phusion Projects, Charge Beverages Corp, New Century Brewing Co and United Brands Company Inc – alerting them to the fact that the high level of caffeine in the alcoholic drinks amounted to an, "unsafe food additive".
The products have been sent to a plant in Virginia where they are being converted into aluminum, cardboard and ethanol.
Public health concern
At the time the FDA warning letters were sent to the four companies, outgoing FDA Principal Deputy Commissioner, Dr Joshua M. Sharfstein, stated: “FDA does not find support for the claim that the addition of caffeine to these alcoholic beverages is ‘generally recognized as safe,’ which is the legal standard. To the contrary, there is evidence that the combinations of caffeine and alcohol in these products pose a public health concern.”
The month previous to the FDA missives, the Federal Trade Commission sent letters to the same manufacturers urging them to review their marketing.
“Consumers might mistakenly assume that these beverages are safe because they are widely sold,” said David Vladeck, director of the FTC’s Bureau of Consumer Protection. “In fact, there is good reason to believe that these caffeinated alcohol drinks pose significant risks to consumer health and safety. Consumers – particularly young, inexperienced drinkers – may not realize how much alcohol they have consumed because caffeine can mask the sense of intoxication.”
The FDA conducted a scientific review in coming to its decision to issue the four warning letters and the combination of caffeine and alcohol at high levels could, “mask some of the sensory cues individuals might normally rely on to determine their level of intoxication.”
Research indicated consumption of such drinks could lead to a, "wide-awake drunk" status and be “associated with risky behaviors that may lead to hazardous and life-threatening situations” such as car accidents and assaults.
Major brewers such as Anheuser-Busch and MillerCoors have removed alcoholic energy drink brands, as did Carlton United Breweries in Australia. Consumers, however, remain free to mix energy drinks and alcohol in nightspots at their own discretion.
Responding to the November FDA letter, Phusion Projects said it was removing caffeine from its Four Loko brand.