beer column

here are my notes from yesterday's beer column on cbc radio one's on the coast
talking about gmos in beer with mathew lazin-ryder:

Let's begin this post-St. Patrick’s Day column with a mention of green beer. 
I am a fan of beer; good beer, quality beer.  If you could make your beer green in colour without taking away from the quality of the beer, then I would be all for it.  To the best of my knowledge though, the green beer on offer around Vancouver is courtesy of green food colouring.  As a card carrying beer geek I'm not down with that!
Which leads me to what else shouldn’t be in beer - such as genetically modified organisms.
Beer has four ingredients, water, yeast, hops and barley.  Of those four, water is not a substance that can be genetically altered, so it’s fine.  Hops and barley are currently not on a risk list, so they are not likely to contain GMOs.  Yeast, however, is on the high risk list.  Adjuncts like corn and honey are on the high risk list, with rice and wheat on the low-risk list.  So it is possible that there are GMOs in your beer.  The jury is still out on whether GMOs are harmful to humans, but they have been banned in many other countries.  Several recent polls show that the majority of North Americans want GMO labelling, so it seems safe to say that consumers do want to know what is in their food and beverages.  And I should point out that the risk lists referred to above are from the Non-GMO Project and attached at the bottom of this post in their entirety.

There is currently no legislation in Canada to require that breweries, or any food producers for that matter, list genetically modified ingredients in their products so there is no way to be sure whether there are any in your beer, and if there are how wide-spread their presence is.  I would assume that by using adjuncts like corn in their brews that macrobrews are far more likely to contain GMOs than the brews of craft breweries that use no adjuncts at all.
There are two verification processes though, that can tell the consumer which products absolutely do not have GMOs in them.  Those are the Certified Organic designation, and the Non-GMO Project verification that I mentioned earlier  There are a handful of breweries in the country designated Certified Organic, but so far only one brewery is in the process of obtaining Non-GMO Project verification.  I spoke with several local breweries about whether they think obtaining verification is important, and I got several different viewpoints.
Any food products that are Certified Organic are GMO free by definition.  Breweries such as Crannog and Nelson Brewing are Certified Organic.  Rebecca Kneen of Crannog says they chose to be organic “because not only are we therefore guaranteeing what we ourselves do, but we are responsible both up and down the supply chain. So we know that none of the farms which grow our barley grow any GMOs, for example.”

Claire Wilson of Dogwood Brewing, one of the breweries set to open in 2014, is going to pursue Certified Organic status.  She says that they  want to use the buying power of our business to support local and organic suppliers, we believe it makes a difference to the Health of our customers who drink our product and to the environment we live in. ... When we can we should spend our money on local and Organic Products in that order. “
I spoke to Becky Julseth of Saltspring Island Ales, the brewery currently applying for Non-GMO Project verification about why they are pursing the verification.  Our ultimate goal is to get certified Organic, but it’s still really hard to secure a steady supply of a variety of organic hops.   We grow as much Organic hops as we can here on Salt Spring, but it’s not yet enough to supply us year-round.  We switched to 100% organic malts 2 years ago (all the grain we use here is organic, all the time).”

Becky says that one of her motivations of getting into the brewing business “was the opportunity to engage with small-scale farming and the local food movement.  Seemed contradictory to be growing hops on the island and working on such an artisanal scale, but then buying our grains from Cargill or Montsanto.  Organic grains are a little more expensive, but in the grand scheme, we feel better about our products and our brand so it’s worth it.  I like feeling like my business is supporting a chain of goodness – both forwards to the customer and backwards to the growers. “
Becky believes that getting certified by the Non-GMO Project will show Saltspring Island Ales’ customers that they “throw our support behind smaller-scale, more sustainable farming.”

My entire interview with Becky is contained in a separate blog post.

On the other side of the equation, Dave Varga of 33 Acres says that ensuring supply of Non-GMO ingredients is very difficult for a small brewery:  It's not that easy to request non GMO products. If the farmers cannot get the yield, they won't grow non GMO barley. If the quality of barley isn't good, the maltsters have a hard time creating a product that makes brewers happy. As a small craft brewer, if we don't get a consistent product, we can have some real problems downstream in the brewing process that doesn't yield a beer that a customer now expects.  Until a very large production brewery starts requesting non GMO products, it will be difficult for most of us smaller craft brewers to get access to these non GMO products.”

And Parallel 49 has no desire to go Non-GMO.  They are excited to try out some  GMO yeast from UBC that can do some really interesting [things] now that the genome has been mapped.”
At the end of the day, if what goes into their beer is important to consumers, they can show that via their beer choices and by opening dialogue with their local breweries.  Part of the joy of having tasting rooms around town is the ability to directly access the folks making your beer.  Oh, and there’s social media too of course.  I first heard about the Non-GMO Project through a listener who tweeted me, wanting to know why there are currently no breweries in North America verified by the project.

Beer Picks:
I’m going all organic with these picks – not a GMO in sight!

Nelson Brewing After Dark brown ale
Crannog Brewing’s legendary Backhand of God stout

Saltspring Island Ale’s Porter

From the Non-GMO Project

List of Crops, Processed/Processing Inputs, Production Inputs, and other Organisms with GMO Risk

Crops -   The following crops carry risk of being genetically engineered, because  engineered varieties of these crops are grown large scale in North America and certain other parts of the world:
These crops may not be used in Non-GMO Project approved products unless verified as
compliant with the Non-GMO Project Standard.

Corn Except popcorn
Sugar beets
Zucchini and yellow summer squash

Animal Derivatives - These include products derived from cattle, sheep, pigs, chickens, and other common livestock, fowl, and fish, and include the following:
Most animal-derived products have GMO risk because soy, corn, cottonseed, and canola are commonly used in feed. Micro Inputs for feed such as vitamins may also carry risk of not being compliant with the Non-GMO Project Standard (see below).

Non-GMO Project Standard
These animal derivatives may not be used in Non-GMO Project approved products unless
verified as compliant with the Non-GMO Project Standard.

Meat Hides and skins are also included in this category.
Honey and other bee products Due to potential for contamination with GMO crop pollen.
Livestock Production Inputs

The following inputs may not be used unless verified as compliant with the Non-GMO
Project Standard.
rBGH, rBST (recombinant Bovine Growth Hormone or recombinant Bovine Somatotropin)
Semen See Guidance at
Veterinary Medicines
Microbes and microbial products
Enzymes, including chymosin
Microbial cultures and starters Including yeast.
Processed/processing inputs and ingredients, and related derivatives, derived from crops, livestock, or microorganisms:
The following is a non-exhaustive list of derivatives with high GMO risk that are commonly used in food production. It is meant to provide examples of materials that will be considered high-risk in the Non-GMO Project Product Verification Program. The following inputs may not be used unless verified as compliant with the Non-GMO Project Standard.

Amino Acids
Ascorbic Acid, Sodium Ascorbate, Vitamin C
Citric Acid, Sodium Citrate Derived from glucose syrup.
Ethanol Derived from corn or GMO sugar beets.
Flavorings, “natural” and “artificial” Also the carrier may have GMO risk.
High-Fructose Corn Syrup
Hydrolyzed Vegetable Protein
Lactic acid
Microbial growth media
Molasses Derived from sugar beets, beginning 2008 crop.
Monosodium Glutamate
Sucrose Derived from sugar beets, beginning 2008 crop.
Textured vegetable protein Including soy protein,
Xanthan Gum
Vitamins Vitamin A (various forms), Vitamin B6 (pyridoxine hydrochloride), Vitamin B12 (cyanocobalamin), Vitamin C (ascorbic acid), and Vitamin E (various forms) are known to have GMO risk. Vitamins in general are often formulated with dispersants and related
ingredients that also have GMO risk (e.g., corn oil).
Yeast products
List of Monitored Crops

Crops - The following crops carry potential risk of being contaminated with GMOs:

Monitored crops include those for which suspected or known incidents of contamination have occurred, and those crops which have genetically modified relatives in commercial production with which cross-pollination is possible.

Beta vulgaris, (e.g., chard, table beets) Cross pollination risk from GM sugar beets
Brassica napa (e.g., rutabaga, Siberian kale) Cross pollination risk from GM canola
Brassica rapa (e.g., bok choy, mizuna, Chinese cabbage, turnip, rapini, tatsoi) Cross pollination risk from GM canola
Curcubita (acorn squash, delicata squash, patty pan squash, pumpkin, and spaghetti squash) Cross-pollination risk from GM squash


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