By Andy Young

The Sixth Circuit, a US federal court of appeal, has dismissed a lawsuit brought by various consumers in seven US states against Anheuser-Busch InBev over claims the brewer had intentionally overstated the alcohol content on many of its beers.

The plaintiffs claimed that AB InBev has sophisticated technology which enables the brewer to precisely measure and control the alcohol content of its beers. They then alleged that the brewer actually uses “its precise knowledge of the alcohol content of its products to deceive consumers.”

The plaintiffs went on to allege that AB InBev adds extra water to its products to dilute the alcohol content to levels below those represented on product labels. As a result, say the plaintiffs, "AB InBev is able to save money on production costs and gain a competitive advantage over other brewers, while intentionally misrepresenting the quality of its products to consumers". 

The plaintiffs claimed that they had purchased AB InBev beers believing the ABV details listed on the product and that they would not have made those purchases if they had known that the alcohol content was in fact lower than the amount stated on the labels, and ultimately they received beer with less value than the beer that AB InBev promised on its labels.

US federal law allows for a 0.3 per cent tolerance in its labelling regulation and AB InBev moved to dismiss the case on the grounds that any alleged misstatement of alcohol content, even if intentional, fell within that 0.3 per cent tolerance.

Further AB InBev argued that because the plaintiffs never alleged that it had overreported the alcohol content in its beers by more than 0.3 percent, the brewer had fully complied with state and federal regulations governing alcoholic beverages, which excluded it from liability under state consumer-protection law.

The district court initially agreed with AB InBev and the Sixth Circuit also agreed, Judge Danny Julian Boggs said that the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms "determined that such small variances are not misleading to consumers". He also rejected the consumers' argument for an intent-based reading of FAAA regulations.

He added: "The plaintiffs fail to explain why the producer's intent would have anything to do with whether a label that does not reflect the correct alcohol content in a malt beverage 'tends to create a misleading impression' to consumers.

"In other words, a customer who is 'misled' by a beverage label that overstates the alcohol-by-volume content of the beverage would be misled irrespective of the producer's intent."

Gemma Hart, vice president of communications with Anheuser-Busch, told TheShout: "We are pleased that the Sixth Circuit has affirmed the District Court’s dismissal of this case.  We proudly adhere to the highest standards in brewing our beers, which have made them the best-selling in the US and the world."

The Shout Team

The leading online news service for Australia's beer, wine, spirits and hospitality industries.

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *