TTB Clarifies its February 2 Release Suspending Expedite Requests and Informal Review of COLAs

On Friday, April 29, the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau (TTB) issued a clarification on their February 2, 2011 notice suspending “expedite requests” and informal review of alcohol beverage labels. As members of the industry are well aware, the processing time for Certificate of Label Approval (COLA) submissions has been drastically increased in recent months. This delays in processing times are correlated to increased COLA submissions due to industry growth and dwindling of TTB resources. According to their April 29 statement:

Expedited requests require more resources to process because TTB must spend time to determine whether each specific request meets the grounds for expedited treatment, rather than simply the time spent to evaluate and process the label application. While our regulations generally establish a 90-day timeframe within which TTB may process an application, you may be assured we will work hard to perform our review more quickly than that. However, we remind applicants that they should allow adequate time in planning for a label approval to account for the processing timeframe that the regulations provide, particularly since revisions to labels or formulas may be necessary and may cause delays that are not within TTB’s control.

After TTB announced its policy on the discontinuance of expedited and informal reviews on February 2nd, we received several inquiries that, while expressing an understanding of the rationale underlying the policy, asked for a phase-in of the policy. Consequently, we wish to clarify that a phase-in policy is not necessary since requests that demonstrate good cause for expedited processing, such as requests presenting circumstances that are or were not reasonably within the applicant’s control or ones which could not have been anticipated and planned for in advance through appropriate internal controls and procedures, may be processed in an accelerated manner. For purposes of fairness to the entire industry, and in order to address the backlog that TTB currently faces, we will consider this standard very narrowly. You may direct any written request (with full details on why good cause is present) for an expedited review to TTB’s Advertising, Labeling and Formulation Division (ALFD) for evaluation. Informal label review, however, will not be conducted under any circumstances.

The TTB will now allow a very small number of “expedite requests” as long as the applicant illustrates a scenario with their submission that was not within their control or could not have been anticipated of planned. This will be reviewed on a case by case basis and will only be allowed under the most narrow of circumstances. If you have any questions regarding this, please contact Michael Kaiser at WineAmerica.