Socially Responsible Beer Drinking

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Socially Responsible Beer Drinking

In some circles, people wanting to avoid GMOs are being lumped together with climate deniers as enemies of science. So be it. I still want to know if my food has been genetically altered in a lab. Same goes for my beer. With­out any labeling requirements in the US, how do I know if my brew of choice uses GMO ingredients?

GMO: It’s in the corn syrup

In some circles, people wanting to avoid GMOs are being lumped together with climate deniers as enemies of science. So be it. I still want to know if my food has been genetically altered in a lab. Same goes for my beer. With­out any labeling requirements in the US, how do I know if my brew of choice uses GMO ingredients?

According to information from the Genetic Literacy Project, most beers are inherently non-GMO. Remember that there are only eight major GM crops currently grown in the US: alfalfa, canola, corn, cotton, papayas, soybeans, squash and sugar beets. Beer is made with water, wheat, barley, hops and yeast. None of these ingredients come from genetically modified crops.

But GMOs do get into beer a couple of ways. The most common is through corn syrup, commonly used by major breweries, including Coors, Pabst, Corona and Budweiser.

Another place where GMOs may soon work their way into beer is yeast. According to a 2014 Popular Mechanics article, geneticists have already designed beer yeasts that could allow brewers to better control flavor, aroma, head retention and other qualities. As of yet, no commercial beer on the market uses GM yeast, though apparently it will be easy to gain FDA approval when the time comes. Some American wines, it turns out, are already compromised, made with the GM wine yeast ML01. Of course, yeast is filtered out of most beers before bottling. Drinkers likely wouldn’t consume the yeast, at least in any great quantity, so it’s up for debate whether there is any harm in using GM yeast.

As for the future of other beer ingredients, the American Malting Barley Association recently assured drinkers saying, “no genetically modified varieties [of barley] are approved for commercial production in North America.” And with little industry interest in developing such a product, barley should be “safe” for another decade.

If you’re still concerned about GMOs in beer, drink organic certified brews. You can also generally trust local craft breweries.

BPA: It’s in the can

Do you remember when research began circulating about the health risks of BPAs in plastics? Some science began pointing to a dark side of the epoxy additive, claiming that Bisphenol A (BPA), a synthetic version of estrogen and an endocrine-disrupting chemical, causes hormonal damage linked to cancer and abnormal childhood brain development— health effects more or less denied by the US Food and Drug Administration. Still, lots of people, upon learning this, immediately trashed their old Nalgene water bottles and other BPA containers to avoid plastic poisoning. Did you? If your answer is “yes,” you might want to reconsider drinking beer from cans.

Turns out, beer cans are lined with BPA plastic. The lining is one reason why modern canned beer doesn’t get a bad metallic taste. Micro-brew, corporate beer—either way, if it’s in a can, your beer is touching BPA plastic.

If you’re looking hard for reasons to continue buying beer in cans (they’re great for camping), you can believe what the FDA says: that “BPA is safe at the current levels occurring in foods.”

Not all breweries agree. Some micro-breweries, such as Lagunitas, refuse to can their beer specifically because of the BPA risk. Nimbus Beer, an Arizona brewery, released a company statement shunning cans. Aggressively hopped West Coast-style beers, Nimbus contends, are even more at risk for BPA leeching because of their acidity. “It is these very acids that cause BPAs to leech from the lining of the can…the actual level of BPAs in these styles of beers have the potential to be so high that you should seriously consider not ever consuming any canned beer…”

Ironically, it is because of beer’s acidity that the FDA will likely never approve non-BPA linings for beer cans. According to research done by Mother Jones, BPA-free linings are only approved for low-acid foods like beans because acidic foods can penetrate a non BPA-hardened lining and react with the metal container, making the lining irrelevant.

 
 
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