Saturday, November 20, 2010

Why Not Alcohol and Caffeine? Curmudgeonly FDA Bans New Products Keeps Old Ones

By now you may have heard that pre-packaged drinks that have alcohol and caffeine are prohibited by the FDA. 

Why? FDA is the Food and Drug Administration, and they keep our chicken free from bacteria, and medicines "safe and effective."

The reason isn't really medical; it is behavioral. The drinker does not feel as drunk, so s/he drinks more. Officials claim the feeling of the caffeine is an illusion, and the  drinker is really extra drunk. 

I think there is self-selection going on. Last night I drove to a restaurant in midtown, and so I only had one drink -- it was a craft-brewed stout.  If I were going to get drunk, well, maybe I'd drink something caffeinated so the night did not end too early. 

Here is what the FDA says;

"FDA does not find support for the claim that the addition of caffeine to these alcoholic beverages is 'generally recognized as safe,' which is the legal standard," said Joshua M. Sharfstein, the FDA's principal deputy commissioner. 

"To the contrary, there is evidence that the combinations of caffeine and alcohol in these products pose a public health concern."

 Tellingly FDA is not banning Kahlua -- hard to understand how a regulation can ban a low alcohol product like Four Loko, and not a higher alcohol liquor. Strikes me as protecting the entrenched sellers.  It is hard to see how this regulation will survive a court challenge because it is so arbitrary. 

Four Loko is made by little guy Phusion Projects, while Kahlua comes from international conglomerate Pernod Ricard who makes Seagrams and Absolut.

My issue is that FDA should protect us against hazards in food and medicine. There is no medicinal interaction between caffeine and alcohol, so they don't have the basis to act. 

Even though the FDA is banning pre-mixed drinks, you can still pour vodka in your Red Bull.  Rum and Coke  is still OK.

While most people may need a curb on their behavior, this is not what the FDA is for. This strikes me as a curmudgeonly  reaction against something new.