The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has joined a list of groups publicly supporting the removal of malt beverages, or "alco-pops," off grocery store shelves.

The church issued a statement of support this week after queries from media outlets about its stance on the issue. It joins the Alcoholic Beverage Control Commission and Utah Attorney General Mark Shurtleff in saying malt beverages should be sold in state liquor stores.

This is the first time the LDS Church has expressed an opinion on the issue, but spokesman Mark Tuttle said Thursday the statement was not something the church initiated.

The statement, which is attributed to Tuttle, said: "To allow the sale of distilled spirits in grocery and convenience stores promotes underage drinking and undermines the state system of alcohol control."

There are reports a bill is being drafted for the upcoming legislative session to restrict the sale of malt beverages by allowing them to be sold only in state liquor stores. It is in response to a 3-2 vote last fall by the Alcoholic Beverage Control Commission to recommend lawmakers draft a bill to change state law.

The issue has arisen because of concerns that alco-pops are appealing to teenage drinkers. The drinks are made from a beer base but flavored to taste like fruits or wines. The state permits malt beverages in grocery stores because they are similar to beer — they cannot have an alcohol content higher than 3.2 percent — but some have small amounts of distilled spirits, which must legally be sold in liquor stores.

Art Brown, president of Mothers Against Drunk Driving, said he was pleased that an LDS Church official would comment on the issue and encouraged others to do the same — whether in support or against. His group is in favor of removing the drinks from grocery stores.

"When you have alcohol in the community, it affects everyone," he said. "For us, anything that reduces underage drinking helps reduce drunk driving."

James Olsen, president of the Utah Food Industry Association, could not be reached for comment late Thursday. His group, which represents more than 8,000 grocery and convenience stores, has been reported as against restricting sales of malt beverages to liquor stores.


E-mail: nwarburton@desnews.com