A consumer-advocacy group filed suit against MillerCoors LLC in an effort to have the company’s Sparks beverage removed from the Washington, D.C., market. This is the latest in the campaign against the caffeinated alcoholic beverage. The nonprofit Center for Science in the Public Interest sued the second-largest U.S. beer maker in District of Columbia Superior Court, contending that Sparks contains unapproved ingredients and poses health and safety risks for consumers. Zuma Press MillerCoors is a joint venture of SABMiller PLC and Molson Coors Brewing Co. The Treasury Department’s Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau approved all formulas and labels for Sparks, Sparks Light and other versions of the drink.
The suit came amid probes of Sparks’s marketing by various state attorneys general, who are concerned about the drink’s appeal to minors. In June, MillerCoors’s main rival, No. 1 beer maker Anheuser-Busch Cos., agreed to stop selling similar products in a settlement with 11 state attorneys general. But MillerCoors has dug in its heels and is taking a firm stance against moves by regulators and consumer groups to curtail Sparks. It should be noted that MillerCoors has more at stake with Sparks than Anheuser-Busch did with its Tilt and Bud Extra drinks, which Anheuser pledged to reformulate. Sparks is the No. 1 selling drink in the caffeinated alcoholic-beverage category, with 60% market share, and SABMiller paid $215 million to acquire the brand and other products from McKenzie River Corp. in 2006.
In its suit, the center says U.S. alcohol regulators are only supposed to permit the use of ingredients that the Federal Drug Administration has “affirmatively” determined to be generally recognized as safe.” The center contends four of the food additives in Sparks — caffeine, guarana, taurine and ginseng — haven’t met that threshold for use in alcoholic drinks. Any manufacturer can self-certify that an ingredient is generally recognized as safe under federal guidelines. The center’s lawsuit accuses MillerCoors of irresponsibly marketing Sparks to young consumers. According to George A. Hacker, director of the center’s alcohol-policies project, “Mix alcohol and stimulants with a young person’s sense of invincibility and you have a recipe for disaster.”
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