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Anheuser-Busch waters down beers, lawsuits say

| Tuesday, Feb. 26, 2013, 8:24 p.m.

PHILADELPHIA — Beer lovers across the United States have accused Anheuser-Busch of watering down its Budweiser, Michelob and other brands in class-action suits seeking millions in damages.

The suits, filed in Pennsylvania, California and other states, claim consumers have been cheated out of the alcohol content stated on labels. Budweiser and Michelob each boast of being 5 percent alcohol, while some “light” versions are said to be slightly more than 4 percent.

The lawsuits are based on information from former employees at the company's 13 U.S. breweries, some in high-level plant positions, said lead lawyer Josh Boxer of San Rafael, Calif.

“Our information comes from former employees at Anheuser-Busch, who have informed us that as a matter of corporate practice, all of their products mentioned (in the lawsuit) are watered down,” Boxer said. “It's a simple cost-saving measure, and it's very significant.”

The water is added just before bottling and cuts the stated alcohol content by 3 percent to 8 percent, he said.

Anheuser-Busch InBev called the claims “groundless” and said its beers fully comply with labeling laws.

“Our beers are in full compliance with all alcohol labeling laws. We proudly adhere to the highest standards in brewing our beers, which have made them the best-selling in the U.S. and the world,” Peter Kraemer, vice president of brewing and supply, said in a statement.

The suit involves 10 Anheuser-Busch products: Budweiser, Bud Ice, Bud Light Platinum, Michelob, Michelob Ultra, Hurricane High Gravity Lager, King Cobra, Busch Ice, Natural Ice and Bud Light Lime.

Anheuser-Busch, based in St. Louis, merged with InBev in 2008 to form the world's largest alcohol producer, headquartered in Belgium. In 2011, the company produced 10 billion gallons of malt beverages, 3 billion of them in the United States, and reported $22 billion in profits from that category, the lawsuit said.

The company has sophisticated equipment that measures the alcohol content throughout the brewing process, the lawsuit says. But after the merger, the company increasingly chose to dilute its popular brands.

Companion suits are being filed this week in Pennsylvania, New Jersey and elsewhere. Each seeks at least $5 million in damages.

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