Caffeinated alcoholic mixed beverages under fire

Posted by AFN Staff Writers on 6th June 2012

Victorian Health Minister David Davis is being urged to ban caffeinated alcoholic beverages following the case of Cheltenham 16-year-old Sara Milosevic, who died in June 2011 after she consumed three cans of a caffeinated alcoholic beverage containing vodka, soda and guarana.

Mr Davis is awaiting two reports, begun last year, about the damage caused by caffeine and alcohol. The Australian-New Zealand Food Regulation Ministerial Council last week announced it was making progress on monitoring caffeine levels in products and possibly to introduce new guidelines.

The Federal government regulates the alcohol and caffeine content of drinks through measures such as the Australia New Zealand Food Standards Code and labelling requirements for alcoholic drinks.

An existing Ministerial Council Policy Guideline on the Addition of Caffeine to Foods created in 2003 recognises the potential risk in the exposure of vulnerable individuals to foods containing caffeine.  The first of its “High Order Principles” is to “give priority to protecting public health and safety”. The second is to “ensure that consumers have access to sufficient information to enable informed and healthy food choices”.

The existing Guideline is  expressed as being intended to “limit the possible adverse effect of caffeine-containing foods on vulnerable sub-groups of the population”, and ensuring “the appropriate use of advisory statements on caffeine-containing foods in alignment with scientifically substantiated risk to vulnerable sub-groups of the population”.

Calls for greater regulatory controls over caffeinated alcoholic beverages (CABs) have been surfacing with greater frequency and internationally. Some studies link CABs to arrhythmia, severe dehydration, and erratic behaviour. In November 2010, the US FDA issued warning letters to four companies that made malt versions of CABs, advising the companies that “caffeine is an unsafe food additive”. The companies were requested to provide evidence within 30 days to the FDA that caffeine in their products was generally regarded as safe (GRAS). An absence of evidence being presented resulted in court proceedings to remove the malt CABs from the U.S. market, and the companies concerned stopped producing or shipping their products.

In April 2011, the Western Australian government banned the sale of alcohol mixed with energy drinks in clubs after midnight. In 2008, Fosters and Lion Nathan discontinued some lines of alcoholic energy drinks. However, a number of major beverage-makers appear to be expanding in the same market around Australia and the products are high-volume sellers for the major supermarket-owned liquor shops.