Coauthored by Susan Johnson

As we have blogged about previously, the Food and Drug Administration (the “FDA”) has been closely monitoring the appropriateness of additives to alcoholic beverages, with a particular emphasis on caffeinated alcoholic beverages. A recent release from the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau (the “TTB”) indicates that the two agencies could be working together to address this increasingly prominent issue.

The TTB release emphasizes that (1) the issue of whether or not an ingredient added to an alcoholic beverage is generally recognized as safe (“GRAS”) is within the jurisdiction of the FDA; (2) due to uncertainty as to how FDA regulations would apply to such products and the need for the TTB to provide clear guidance to the industry, the TTB believes it is appropriate to partner with the FDA on this matter so forthcoming TTB guidance will be clear and correct; and (3) as a result of the current uncertainty in the field, the TTB has temporarily suspended consideration of requests from industry members seeking guidance about the addition of vitamins and other nutrients, whether directly or indirectly through a flavor, to alcoholic beverages.

While each added ingredient will be analyzed individually by the FDA to determine whether or not it is GRAS, the agency’s action in November 2009 with respect to caffeinated alcoholic beverages could be an indication of its future posture. As we noted in our discussion of that issue, the agency explained in letters to manufacturers of caffeinated alcoholic beverages and a press release detailing the rationale for its action that under the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act, any substance intentionally added to food is deemed unsafe and is unlawful unless its specific use has been approved by an FDA regulation, the substance is subject to a prior sanction, or the substance is listed as GRAS. While caffeinated alcoholic beverages carry with them a number of specific health and public policy concerns, this recent action indicates that manufacturers of alcoholic beverages with added ingredients should be prepared to justify their rationale for inclusion.