The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has asked nearly 30 beverage manufacturers to provide information showing that their caffeinated alcoholic drinks are safe.
The FDA has given beverage makers 30 days to come up with the information, saying that any ingredient that is added to a drink must undergo an assessment to prove that it is GRAS (generally recognized as safe), unless it has been approved by FDA regulation, or is subject to a prior sanction. Although the agency has previously approved caffeine for use in non-alcoholic drinks at no more than 200 parts per million, it has never approved the safety of caffeine in alcoholic drinks, the agency said on Friday.
Principal deputy commissioner of food and drugs Dr Joshua Sharfstein said: “The increasing popularity of consumption of caffeinated alcoholic beverages by college students and reports of potential health and safety issues necessitates that we look seriously at the scientific evidence as soon as possible.”
It cites research that has shown that as many as 26 percent of college students consume drinks containing a combination of caffeine and alcohol.
The FDA said that if companies are unable to prove GRAS or the prior sanctioned use of caffeine in their products, it will take action to ensure that the drinks are removed from the market.
Concerns about these drinks were initially raised when Miller and Anheuser-Busch started selling caffeinated alcoholic drinks, prompting a group of 18 state attorneys to write to the FDA requesting regulatory action. The companies agreed to stop selling Sparks, Tilt and Bud Extra last year, FDA said, and said they would not produce any more caffeine-containing alcoholic drinks in the future.
Companies that have been requested to provide safety information include Diageo North America, which makes Smirnoff Raw Tea Malt Beverage, and Constellation Brands, which makes Wide Eye.
No one from Constellation was immediately available for comment, but a spokesperson from Diageo said that its Smirnoff Raw Tea had been discontinued "within the last year for commercial reasons".
The move has been welcomed by consumer advocacy group Center for Science in the Public Interest, which called it “one of several moves that indicates the new leadership at FDA is serious about protecting public health”.