MillerCoors to be sued for caffeinated alcohol drink

Posted by James Ferre on 11th September 2008

The nonprofit Center for Science in the Public Interest has filed suit against MillerCoors Brewing Company, formerly Miller, over its alcoholic energy drink, Sparks. The CSPI has been concerned with the contents of the drink, which reportedly has more alcohol than regular beer and contains “unapproved additives”, including the stimulants caffeine and guarana. The lawsuit is asking the Superior Court of the District of Columbia to stop MillerCoors from selling the controversial drink, which is also under scrutiny from state attorneys general.

Sparks contain 6 to 7 percent alcohol by volume, as opposed to regular beer, which typically has 4 or 5 percent alcohol. Also unlike beer, Sparks’ appeal to young people is enhanced by its sweet citrusy taste, redolent of candy, and the bright colour of orange soda, the CSPI suggests.

“MillerCoors is trying to hook teens and ‘tweens on a dangerous drink,” claimed CSPI litigation director Steve Gardner.

CSPI’s lawsuit also contends that it is illegal to use caffeine, guarana, ginseng, and taurine in alcoholic beverages. The federal agency with primary responsibility for regulating alcoholic beverages, the Treasury Department’s Tax and Trade Bureau, says alcoholic beverages may contain only ingredients considered General Recognized as Safe, or GRAS, by the Food and Drug Administration. But the FDA has given only very narrow approval for caffeine and guarana-with no allowance for alcoholic drinks-and no approval for ginseng in any food or beverage, according to the CSPI.

The CSPI has been putting pressure on a number of leading American food and beverage companies over the ingredients they use. In February, CSPI notified Anheuser-Busch and Miller of its intent to sue both companies over caffeinated alcoholic drinks. In June, Anheuser-Busch entered into separate agreements with CSPI and 11 state attorneys general in which the brewer agreed to take caffeine and other additives out of its two alcoholic energy drinks, Bud Extra and Tilt.

That agreement with Anheuser-Busch was the first alcohol-related agreement for CSPI’s litigation project. Since its founding in 2005, CSPI’s litigation unit has, on its own or in cooperation with private law firms, negotiated settlements or voluntary changes to marketing practices with Airborne, Kellogg, Frito-Lay, Quaker Oats, and others.

The pressure on alcoholic beverage companies has intensified over the past year as concerns about binge drinking take hold across the western world. A number of legislation changes have been implemented or mooted and marketers are under scrutiny to ensure they don’t inadvertently target young drinkers and promote a binge drinking culture. In Australia, this has so far led to the introduction of the RTD tax, which is still in danger of not getting passed through the Senate.