Government regulation is the price we pay for living in a civilized society. But when ill-advised government regulations threaten to limit the selection of craft beers available to the brew lovers among us, it’s time for the feds to dial back and understand their proper role.
In this case, the government actor is the Food and Drug Administration. It’s the entity that makes sure that Americans don’t consume diseased foods or drugs that have harmful side effects. No one disputes the need for such regulations, of course. But the FDA has also promulgated a regulation that would require restaurant chains to offer full nutritional information for all of the beers they have on tap. In order to comply with the regulations, which go into effect next year, brewers will need to perform expensive tests that allow them to specify the number of calories in their beer, the protein content, and so on.
The tests are a cost that can easily be borne by the major breweries that crank out millions of bottles of beer a year — but not so much for the small, local craft breweries that prepare tantalizing artisanal offerings in small batches that typically vary from season to season. Think of that rich Winter Warmer you enjoyed when the cold snap hit last weekend, or the tart Summer Shandy you found so refreshing on a hot July afternoon. The cost of the tests might cause the craft breweries to dial back on the number of their interesting offerings, which would be a shame for us, and them — and for the people employed in the craft beer industry, which has been booming in Ohio and elsewhere.
I’m all for labeling consumables where people might logically want to look at the label to determine calorie count, cholesterol levels, carbohydrates, sodium content, or whatever other ingredient might be an area of dietary focus. And if brewers want to market their suds based on one of these areas — like with low-carb beer — then by all means let’s make sure those statements are accurate.
But craft beer is not one of those consumables where ingredient labels are useful. No true beer-lover makes a decision on whether to order a particular craft beer based on its protein content or calorie level. They just want to know what kind of beer it is (“hmm, that Belgian-style ale sounds good”) and its alcoholic content, which is typically disclosed already at any decent craft beer establishment.
Inspect the breweries? Sure. Make certain that they are clean and aren’t producing a product that might make people sick? Absolutely! But don’t implement pointless regulations that wouldn’t make a difference to craft beer consumers, and in the process cut down on our choices.
Doesn’t anyone in the FDA drink beer? If not, perhaps they should consult with President Obama. He seems to like a cold one now and then.