November 18, 2010

From Four to One: Four Loko to Drop Ingredients

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Four Loko lovers across the country are responding after their alcoholic, caffeinated drink of choice has come under attack this week by state and federal governments seeking to limit the distribution of the beverage and to warn consumers of its dangers.

“People have absolutely gone crazy,” said Jason Burnham, owner of Jason’s Grocery and Deli in Collegetown, which, he said, had 300 cases of Four Loko in stock on Thursday.

“There is a lot of panic buying” by people who are worried they will soon no longer be able to obtain the drink, Burnham said.

Phusion Projects, the manufacturer of Four Loko, will cease shipping its drink in New York State beginning Friday. It reached a voluntary agreement with the New York State Liquor Authority earlier this week to end distribution.

“People are just caught up in the ban. It’s all anyone’s really talking about,” Burnham said.

The Food and Drug Administration announced on Wednesday that Four Loko is a “public health concern” because of its combination of caffeine and malt liquor. The warning came a day after Phusion Projects announced its plans to remove the caffeine, guarana and taurine from the drink.

““We have repeatedly contended — and still believe, as do many people throughout the country — that the combination of alcohol and caffeine is safe,” said the three co-founders of Phusion Projects, who added that they were removing the caffeine only to demonstrate “leadership, cooperation and responsible corporate citizenship.” But, the following day, the FDA disagreed with their assessment of Four Loko’s safety.

“There is evidence that the combinations of caffeine and alcohol in these products pose a public health concern,” said Dr. Joshua M. Sharfstein, principal deputy commissioner at the FDA, in a statement.

The FDA declared that caffeine added to malt alcoholic beverages is an “unsafe food additive,” and that “further action, including seizure of their products, is possible under federal law.”

But the government will not immediately begin seizing Four Lokos. The FDA is giving producers of malt alcoholic drinks that include caffeine 15 days to explain how they will “remedy the violation and prevent its recurrence.”

The agency added that it was aware of Phusion Projects’ decision to remove caffeine from Four Loko, and it “views this announcement as a positive step.”

Phusion Projects said it plans to continue producing Four Loko, but without the caffeine, guarana or taurine.

The ingredients have sparked nationwide controversy.

Massachusetts banned alcoholic drinks that include caffeine, including Four Lokos, on Thursday. The drinks were already prohibited in New Hampshire and a variety of other states.

Phusion Projects, as well as another alcoholic energy drink maker, agreed on Wednesday to stop distributing their products in Ohio — much like Phusion agreed to end distribution in New York.

“How can they ban Four Loko because a few irresponsible shitheads don’t know how to drink it?” Wandi Schell ’13 said last weekend, calling the end of Four Loko’s distribution in New York “unbelievable.”

Wednesday night, Four Loko fans held a “vigil” in New York City’s Union Square to sing “songs of support” and light candles in honor of the beverage, according to The Huffington Post.

“Rest in peace, Four Loko,” Josh Brown ’11 told The Sun last weekend. “It was good knowing you. We had some good times.”

But the FDA emphasized in its statement on Wednesday that the drink may be dangerous.

“Experts have raised concerns that caffeine can mask some of the sensory cues individuals might normally rely on to determine their level of intoxication,” the agency said.

Perhaps to prove the point, a New York State Assembly representative from Brooklyn, Felix Ortiz, drank two and a half cans of Four Loko at a Brooklyn hospital on Wednesday to test the drink’s potency. After finishing the drinks, he “promptly vomit[ed],” The Huffington Post reported.

Original Author: Michael Linhorst