Class Actions Filed Over Watered-Down Budweiser

Posted March 5, 2013 in Consumer Law by

Beer bottle with water splashing over it

iStockphoto/Thinkstock

Think that Bud Light tastes watery? Your taste buds could be even more on-point than you realize.

Class action lawsuits have been filed in at least seven states, with more to come, alleging that the Anheuser-Busch brewing company has been exaggerating the alcohol content of many of its products.

Its flagship brand Budweiser is the third most popular beer in the country, and Anheuser-Busch products overall make up 39 percent of the U.S. beer market.

The lawsuits allege that the company adds water to the beverages before packaging them, reducing their alcohol content between 3 to 8 percent from what they claim on the label.

“AB’s claims are false in every instance and are based on its uniform corporate policy of overstating the amount of alcohol in each of AB’s products,” a suit filed in California claims. “Using highly advanced process control instrumentation and corporate protocols, AB can and does identify and control, with great accuracy and precision, the exact alcohol content of each unit it sells, but nevertheless intentionally misrepresents each such product as having a greater amount of alcohol than it actually contains.”

Suits have also been filed in New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Colorado, Ohio, Missouri and Texas, accusing the beverage company of violating state consumer protection laws, with more suits expected soon.

The lawsuits name 11 products that have been effected: Budweiser, Bud Ice, Bud Light Platinum, Bud Light Lime, Hurricane High Gravity Lager, Michelob, Michelob Ultra, King Cobra, Busch Ice, Natural Ice and Black Crown.

 

Massive Class Potential

Attorney Joshua D. Boxer headshot

Joshua D. Boxer

Eventually, the lawsuits could be consolidated in one jurisdiction. Imagine the potential size of the class — everyone who’s sipped a Budweiser in the last five years.

“We don’t have a firm number on that yet,” says Joshua D. Boxer of the Mills Law Firm, one of the plaintiffs’ attorneys in California. “It’s going to be somewhat of a challenge determining the exact number of consumers given that no one registers or keeps records necessarily of who purchases Anheuser-Busch products.”

Boxer says that the law firm learned of the watering down from former employees of the brewing company. “We wound up speaking to individuals who worked at many plants around the country at various positions. These are the people calibrating and maintaining alcohol testing and implementing corporate policies,” he says. “They’ve all told us a very consistent story of Anheuser-Busch’s consistent mislabeling.”

An Anheuser-Busch executive denied the allegations in a statement, saying “We proudly adhere to the highest standards in brewing our beer.” The company published newspaper advertisements across the nation this weekend that depicted a can of Anheuser-Busch-brand drinking water and the caption, “They must have tested one of these.”

NPR had independent tests conducted that found the beers’ alcohol contents matched what was on the label; however, the attorneys are confident their case will hold up in court.

 

Liquid Lawsuits

This isn’t the only recent lawsuit aimed at brewing companies. In another, prisoners blamed major beer companies for not warning them about the dangers of alcohol. The plaintiffs seek to hold the brewers responsible for their own criminal acts.

In other news on the diluted alcohol beat, Maker’s Mark whiskey recently took a big publicity hit when it announced that it would intentionally lower the alcohol content of the brand from 45 to 42 percent. After suffering from public backlash, the distillery walked back its plan after a week and restored the drink to its original 90-proof strength.

However, Maker’s Mark was upfront about its plans to change the percentage, misguided as it might have been. If the facts of the Budweiser lawsuit find that the company deliberately misrepresented its product, that’s a whole different story. Millions of drinkers may have been getting less drunk than they thought they were. And if you can’t take the word of a brewing company, then who can you trust?

“It raises interesting questions,” Boxer says, “and certainly applies to a very large segment of the American public.”

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