Anheuser-Busch accused of 'illegal' alcohol labels
of its Spykes malt-based beverages, which have been accused of
carrying 'illegal' warning labels.
The shot-sized drinks, which also contain caffeine, ginseng and guarana, are 12 percent alcohol by volume, and are designed to be consumed on their own or to be mixed with beer. But according to outspoken consumer advocacy group Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI), the fruity drinks are an attempt to get children interested in alcohol. "This is a shameful ploy to market malt liquor to the Lunchables set. Anheuser-Busch is practically begging to be investigated, subpoenaed, sued, or hauled before a Congressional committee to explain this one," said George Hacker, director of alcohol policies at CSPI. In a letter to John Manfreda, the administrator of the Treasury Department's Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau (TTB) - the agency that regulates alcohol labeling - CSPI said the drinks do not meet the government's standards for readability, which include minimum font sizes, a maximum number of characters per inch, and a contrasting background. "The text on Spykes' 'Spicy Lime' warning label is in nearly invisible silver lettering on a non-contrasting, light lime-green background and has too many characters per inch," it said. However, Spykes' labels were approved by TTB in 2005. CSPI maintains that the "violations" on the labels were missed by the agency, and calls on TTB to retrain the individuals who signed off on the labels and to seek civil penalties against Anheuser-Busch. In response to CSPI's letter, the beverage firm issued the following statement: "Anheuser-Busch has learned that the lettering on the mandatory government warning label on its Spykes malt beverage product contains 41-47 characters per inch, depending on the line measured, making it slightly smaller than the required 40 characters per inch." "While the content of the warning label is accurate and the height of the letters is correct, the width of the text is too narrow. The label, which had received approval from state and federal authorities, will be replaced with a corrected version." In November 2002, TTB rejected a petition by CSPI for improvements in the design of government warning labels for alcoholic beverages. However, the Bureau said it "will continue to review both applications for label approval as well as containers in the marketplace to ensure that health warning statements on alcohol beverage containers meet the requirements of current regulations." Violations of the Alcohol Beverage Labeling Act and TTB regulations are punishable by civil penalties of up to $10,000 a day.