It’s probably not the best idea to begin your indictment of the beer industry with the following line. “I have to confess, I’m not a beer drinker.” But this is how food industry watchdog Vani Hari (blogging under Food Babe) started her recent story "The Shocking Ingredients In Beer." Hari started her popular blog in April 2011 as an outlet to surface her frustrations with the profits-at-all-costs food industry. It was personal, as she details in her bio:
"After suffering some serious health issues, I became incredibly passionate about understanding what is in food – how it is grown, what chemicals are used in its production, and what eating food does or doesn’t do for the body."
A look at Hari's top blog posts points to polemics with titles like Coca Cola’s Low Calorie Beverages Will Kill You Before They Solve Obesity and The Carcinogens In Starbucks Frappucinos. But it’s the beer story that has elicited some serious pushback from those associated with the so-called "better beer" industry. Her post starts off innocent enough. “Is beer really healthy? Why are the ingredients not listed on the label?” The questions continue. “Which brands are trying to slowly poison us with cheap and harmful ingredients?”
Before ripping into the toxic potable, she does lay down the crucial caveat that, inherently, alcohol is not a healthy person’s best friend. “But that’s just the tip of the iceberg.” Oh boy. “When you drink beer, there is almost a 100% chance that you don’t know what you are drinking (unless you quizzed the beer companies like I did).” So what did she find out?
Well, basically, this. Which was compiled from a cheery book called Chemical Additives in Beer published by the Center of Science and Public Interest (a group that has openly supported the complete ban of alcohol consumption). In terms of GMOs, according to Hari, many are present, including:
- High Fructose Corn Syrup (Guinness)
- Corn syrup (Miller Light, Coors, Corona, Fosters, Pabst Blue Ribbon, Red Stripe)
- Dextrose (Budweiser, Bud Light, Busch Light, Michelob Ultra)
- Corn (Red Stripe, Miller Coors Brand, Anheuser-Busch Brands)
So what’s a beer drinker to do? She answers this in a section titled: So What Beers Are Additive and GMO Free? OK, simple enough.
"If you enjoy the occasional beer and wish to maintain your healthy lifestyle, choosing one without GMOs and additives is ideal. Unfortunately, most of the mainstream beers available have additives, but luckily, there are a few that don’t. For example, Sierra Nevada, Heineken, and Amstel Light appear to be pretty clean."
She also notes that due to purity laws, German beers are a safer bet. As for so-called craft beers?
"For certain local craft and micro beers, you can ask those companies for a list of ingredients and many of them will be up front with you. However, companies like Miller Coors are slowly closing in on craft beers and buying them up one by one… like they did when they created the unique popular variety called Blue Moon (the beer you drink with an orange) and Anhesuer-Busch [sic] did this with Rolling Rock and Goose Island Brewery."
Since 2002, Thomas Cizauskas has published the blog Yours For Good Fermentables, which has served as a “chronicle of [his] love affair with beer.” He’s worked as a brewer, brewmaster, brewpub owner, speaker and writer for over 20 years. He also wrote a response to Food Babe, Beer Wars: The Calumny of The Food Babe.
“I'm angry. If you're a good beer drinker or brewer, you should be too.” Oh boy. He continues. “It was a typical attack piece, half-right and misleading, and researched just enough to prove a point, rather than to find fact.”
He first addresses Hari's claim that some craft beers are cleaner than others, quoting beer writer Maureen Ogle. "I'd hate to see a 'your beer is more pure than mine' war start over this," she writes. He then calls on Steve Parkes, a well regarded brewer and owner of the American Brewers Guild. In a lengthy rebuttal, Parkes states that tracing GMOs in any corn-based product is virtually impossible.
"The main thrust appears to be that beer can be made using corn, corn syrup, high fructose corn syrup, and dextrose, and that the brewers cannot provide proof that they are GMO [genetically modified organism] free. The problem with that is that no supplier of any food made from corn can prove no GMOs are present because no effort has been made to segregate GMO corn from the food supply. It’s unlikely to contain GMO material, but it’s impossible to say for certain it doesn’t. And, if it were brewed with GMO corn — as Pabst Blue Ribbon might be according to the author’s wild speculation — the brewer is forbidden to put 'contains GMO ingredients' on the label, thanks to the lobbying efforts of the food industry."
Cizauskas jumps back into the conversation with a rebuttal — clarifying that he’s a vegetarian and does in fact drink beer as a “wholesome food.”
"I'm on the same bandwagon about health and food (and somewhat about GMOs), but I reject her phony fellowship."
So, to the scorecard:
Food Babe: Drinking alcohol is bad for you. Period. But beer is really bad, laden with GMOs (except for German beers, Sierra Nevada, Heineken and Amstel Light). Craft beers are seemingly OK, but really you are drinking at your own risk because they don't label anything.
Yours For Good Fermentables (and friends): Tracing GMOs in corn-based products is virtually impossible. Food Babe's stats are one-sided and boiled down from various anti-drinking websites and should be scrutinized.
Perhaps you have an opinion about GMOs and the beer industry? Let us know in the comments or on Twitter (@FoodRepublic)