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Greenpeace Asserts GE Rice Used in Bud

Greenpeace today released the results of an independent analysis of rice at an Arkansas mill which supplies rice to Anheuser-Busch for use in their beer. The lab found genetically engineered rice in 75% of the samples. From the press release:

An independent laboratory, commissioned by Greenpeace, detected the presence of GE rice (Bayer LL601) in three out of four samples taken at the mill. The experimental GE rice is one of three rice varieties that were first found in 2006 to have contaminated rice stocks in the US. Since then, GE contamination has been found in approximately 30 per cent of US rice stocks. This has had a massive negative impact on the US rice industry as foreign markets, where GE rice has not been approved, have been closed to US rice.

“Anheuser-Busch must make a clear statement about the level of GE contamination of the rice used to brew Budweiser in the US and spell out what measures are in place to ensure this beer does not reach the company’s export markets,” said Doreen Stabinsky, Greenpeace International GE Campaigner.

“US beer drinkers need Anheuser-Busch to explain why it is not preventing use of this genetically-engineered rice in the US. If, as the company has informed Greenpeace, all of the Budweiser exported from the US or manufactured outside of the US is guaranteed GE free then Anheuser-Busch needs to state this publicly, and explain the double standard,” said Stabinsky.

Greenpeace informed Anheuser-Busch of the test results prior to their release and sought clear information from the company on the extent of contamination and its global policy on the use of GE ingredients. Anheuser-Busch responded that the rice is approved in the US and is not used in brewing Budweiser destined for export. The full extent of the contamination remains unclear, however.

LL601 GE rice was retroactively granted approval by the US Dept of Agriculture in an effort to reduce public concern and company liability despite 15,000 public objections. The European Food Safety Authority stated that there was insufficient data to make a finding of safety. Greenpeace says that US consumers have a right to know if this GE rice is used to make Budweiser. This GE rice is not approved outside the US so the Budweiser brewed with it could not be sold abroad.

Anheuser-Busch is the largest single rice buyer in the US, buying 6-10 per cent of the annual US rice crop. Budweiser is one of only a few beers having rice as an ingredient. The brand is found in around 60 countries through a mix of exports and local brewing arrangements.

I recently did an article on green breweries and interviewed the Senior Group Director of Environmental, Health and Safety for A-B. I was pleasantly surprised at just how many things they were doing to be “green” so it seems surprising that they’d overlook genetically engineered rice being used in the beer itself. One thing you can say about Anheuser-Busch is that they do care about their public perception, so it will be interesting to see their reaction to this revelation.

Doug Muhleman, Anheuser-Busch’s Group Vice President of Brewing, Operations and Technology, released a statement yesterday which I think suggests that Greenpeace is not the virtuous one in this story. On closer examination, this may be more about international politics than beer. Here’s Muhleman’s statement:

Greenpeace’s statements regarding our beer brands are false and defamatory. All of our products are made according to the highest quality standards and in complete compliance with the laws in each country where we sell our beers.

We stand in support of U.S. farmers, who are partners with us in the quality of our products. Greenpeace recently asked us to join their advocacy campaign on genetically modified crops. We refused their calls to boycott U.S. farmers, and they are now retaliating.

The use of genetically modified crops in the United States is not new. The vast majority of the commercial corn and soybean supply in the United States contains genetically modified versions that are certified to be safe for human consumption by the U.S. Government.

We use U.S. rice for brewing our products for U.S. consumption. U.S.-grown long-grained rice that may have micro levels of Liberty Link proteins present is fully approved by the U.S. Government, having determined that it is perfectly safe for human consumption. Moreover, the Liberty Link protein, like all proteins, is substantially removed or destroyed by the brewing process. Liberty Link has not been found in any of our tests of our beers brewed in the United States.

We fully comply with all international regulatory standards on the use or presence of genetically modified ingredients wherever our beers are sold internationally, as well. Neither Anheuser-Busch, nor our international licensed brewing partners use genetically modified ingredients, including genetically modified rice, in brewing products sold in any country with legal restrictions.

We talked with Greenpeace, hoping to help them understand the facts. We are disappointed that they instead chose to pursue pressure tactics.

Now I’m no fan of GMO’s, but they have been used here for many years and, like it or not, they’re a part of our massive food system. Short of pulling out every crop in the country and starting over, I’m not exactly sure what would satisfy Greenpeace. Certainly the way Greenpeace is seeking to sensationalize this seems more bullying than anything. I confess I was alarmed when I first read the story but having looked at it more closely in the interim I’m not sure their tactics are entirely warranted.

Me with Doug Muhleman at an A-B reception at GABF last year.

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