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Europeans Scoff at Bioengineered Beer

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  • Europeans Scoff at Bioengineered Beer

    COPENHAGEN, Denmark (AP) -- Spurned across the continent by food-fastidious Europeans, the biotechnology industry has turned in its quest for converts to the ultimate ice breaker: genetically modified beer.


    A consortium of the world's largest biotech companies led by Monsanto Co. (MON) helped fund a Swedish brewer's new light lager that's produced with the usual hops and barley - and a touch of genetically engineered corn.


    Brew master Kenth Persson hopes to profit from the notoriety his biotech brew is generating, while biotech companies hope it can gently sway consumers as European regulators slowly reopen the continent to genetically altered foods.


    But those are tall orders to fill.


    A series of food-related health scares in recent years, from mad cow disease to poisoned poultry, have stoked fears among many Europeans about so-called GM foods.


    Europeans insist that such food be clearly labeled, a vivid contrast with U.S. consumers, who don't appear bothered that so much of their processed food includes genetically engineered soy and corn and isn't labeled as such.


    Indeed, most of the European Union's 457 million residents are adamant about their food being kept free from any sort of modifications, genetic or otherwise.


    And that might help explain why Kenth beer is hardly a barroom hit.




    The brewer won't say how many bottles have been sold since the beer was unveiled earlier this year in Denmark and Sweden. But he says 4,000 bottles are on their way to stores and pubs in Germany and he's in talks with stores in the United Kingdom.


    Although research on GM foods hasn't yielded any nightmare scenarios about damage to life and limb, Nicholas Fjord of Malmoe in southern Sweden, is not entirely convinced, either.


    Despite reassurances that genetically modified products are safe, an image keeps popping up in Fjord's mind about a relative whose mother took Thalidomide in the 1960s because she was assured it was safe.


    "So safe, indeed, that he has no elbow or knee joints and, despite living a good life, has been hindered since his birth," Fjord recalled. Granted, that's an extreme fear, he said, but one that seems to be strong in Europe.


    A study conducted earlier this year by Finland's National Consumer Research Center showed that of all the concerns about manufactured food that Finns have, genetically modified foods topped the list. Some 60 percent of the population expressed "strong concern," according to the survey.


    In April the EU lifted a six-year moratorium on new biotech food, but just barely. The previous month, it approved the sale of a modified strain of sweet corn, grown mainly in the United States. But any food containing that corn must be labeled as genetically modified.


    U.S. farmers argue that the labeling amounts to a de facto ban and the Bush administration says it will continue pushing its biotech trade complaint at the World Trade Organization.


    And that's where Kenth comes in.


    The beer was created because Monsanto felt the biotech debate "never rose further than the inner circle of scientists, politicians and (nongovernment organizations)," said Mattias Zetterstrand, a Monsanto spokesman based in Stockholm, the Swedish capital. "Our wish was to contribute to this situation by making an abstract discussion more concrete."


    The corn in Kenth was approved for use in 1998, before the European moratorium started, and is grown in Germany. The Monsanto-created corn seed is spliced with a bacterium's gene to resist the corn borer pest without the need for insecticides.


    Zetterstrand wouldn't say how much the biotech consortium contributed to the project, but said the companies haven't purchased equity in the small Swedish brewer and won't share in sales of the beer. The other companies involved in the project are Bayer CropScience, DuPont, Plant Science Sweden, Svaloef Weibull and Syngenta.


    The brewer, Persson, said he realizes that selling a genetically modified beverage in the European Union can be a risky proposition - especially when its label touts GM ingredients unabashedly.


    Greenpeace activists chased Kenth-ladened beer trucks in Sweden and Denmark, discouraging store and tavern owners from buying the brew, when it was first introduced, and Greenpeace continues to pressure big grocery chains to avoid stocking it.


    Dan Belusa, a Greenpeace spokesman, said the protest encouraged ICA, a large Swedish grocery store chain, to remove Kenth from its shelves.


    "Basically no GM foods are sold in Europe because consumers and retailers make a conscience choice to say 'no' to them," he said.


    The brewer and Monsanto say Greenpeace's efforts haven't deterred their plans.


    Kenth is now being sold through the Swedish state-owned liquor monopoly, Systembolaget, in southern Sweden and there have been no protests. But its availability is limited.


    At a recent barbecue in Ingaroe, a small town about a 30-minute drive from Stockholm, a six-pack of the bottles was offered up for a taste test. The beer was poured in glasses and offered up.


    All in all, everyone who quaffed said it tasted just fine, just like other beer.


    They weren't put off by its label, which proudly denotes its GM use.


    "To me, it's strictly the taste test," said media consultant Debi Vaught-Thelin. "If the beer is made with GM ingredients and tastes OK to me, then yes, I will drink it happily."
    \"No, I think Space is a dimension of Time. My theory is that Time is a field and that Space exists as an aspect of Time.\" Michael Moorcock

    \"All I know about anything is \"I wasn\'t. I am. I will not be.\" Michael Moorcock

  • #2
    And?
    Yes, many of us want to know what's in a product in order to have achoice. Just as a person may want to choose the kind of life he/she wants to lead, we want to choose what we're consuming. The biotech issue is not one like having to decide the colour of your country`s phone booths.
    Google ergo sum

    Comment


    • #3
      GM foods freak me out more than a little bit. I'm not a technophobe, but I do believe that when it comes to ecology and the environment, science seems to be a bit capricious, or (in a few cases) even gleefully ambivalent about results and effects.

      Messing with my food supply was bad enough. Now they want to mess with beer? For intoxicants, shouldn't science just stick to drugs? :D

      Seriously, though, I agree with LE-- labels are a great thing. I think we have the right to know what may be going into our bodies. It's interesting to me that there are stricter laws governing organic labelling than GM labelling in the US.

      Comment


      • #4
        I absolutely agree... in fact, there should probably be more labels. They never really tell you what's in alcohol in Britain, but I remember in the US the beer had a little "nutritional value" section on the label. Then again, I don't like the way the US labels tell you how many "servings" there are in the box or packet. I always feel as if they're judging me for wanting to have more than one "serving".

        On the other hand, there are a lot of people who don't bother checking the labels. Every couple of months there seems to be a news report about people suddenly discovering that the cereal bars they eat for breakfast are loaded with fat and sugar. Apparently they're in too much of a hurry in the morning to read the little list of ingredients or the box with the calorie count in it!

        I still remember the bean and cheese burritos (sp?) I used to love, until the day I checked the label and discovered they contained beef lard for no apparent reason. I was a sad little veggie that day.

        D...
        "That which does not kill us, makes us stranger." - Trevor Goodchild

        Comment


        • #5
          Agreed.

          Crow: don't you suppose the serving is just a way to let you know what's in the container? It allows you to understand the nutritional and caloric information more easily - that's the way I see it.

          I also agree that some products that are very heavy in fats and sugars go overboard in pretending that a few spoonfuls are a serving, when it just ain't so.

          Comment


          • #6
            Originally posted by DeeCrowSeer
            I still remember the bean and cheese burritos (sp?) I used to love, until the day I checked the label and discovered they contained beef lard for no apparent reason. I was a sad little veggie that day.
            I'm veggie, too, Dee, and I'm always shocked to find gelatin in so many foods. I remember loving a new energy bar that came on the market. I assumed that all energy bars have no animal ingredients (only loads of sugar). After eating two boxes of them, I finally read the ingredients and saw gelatin as about the fifth ingredient listed. Another sad day for the meatless crowd

            Comment


            • #7
              Originally posted by krunky
              Crow: don't you suppose the serving is just a way to let you know what's in the container? It allows you to understand the nutritional and caloric information more easily - that's the way I see it..
              Well yes, but a "serving" is so arbitrary and subjective, I prefer to decide how much to eat based on the calorie/fat content per 100g. Ooh, another thing that annoys me is when they only tell you how many calories there are per 100g, but they don't bother telling you how many grams the product actually weighs. It's meaningless!

              Still, I try not to obsess too much about counting calories.

              Originally posted by Doc
              I'm veggie, too, Dee, and I'm always shocked to find gelatin in so many foods.
              Yep, it's all over the shop. I used to be quite lax about checking labels, but in the UK they've started putting little green Vs on food that is suitable, so I don't really have any excuse now. If it doesn't have a little green V, I try to avoid it. I still wear leather shoes of course, but no one is a saint!

              What worries me is all the veggie talk in the Hitler thread! 8O

              D...
              "That which does not kill us, makes us stranger." - Trevor Goodchild

              Comment


              • #8
                From a scientific point of view, I'm not that alarmed about eating GM food - I know the body will break the stuff down into it's constituent chemicals. To me the real issues are (a) the lack of control - various studies prove the GM crops hybridise with nearby non-GM crops, (b) the antibiotics and pesticides problem - i.e. that they work at first but then new bugs evolve that are immune - what's going to be different about GM plants?

                Most importantly to me, the thing I really object to is the attempt to own and copyright plants. Monsanto's PR scum like to imply that European resistance to GM is causing starvation in Africa, which is of course why they have developed plants that don't produce seeds (i.e. so that next year you have to come back to Monsanto to buy more seed) - because they care! To me it is the attempt to OWN nature that is more objectionable than meddling with it. (I don't particularly want to live in a hippy teepee world - give me houses and electricity!!)

                Tangential note : I bought a copy of Word magazine with a massive advert from Budweiser attempting to make a big deal out of the freshness of their beer. What a brilliant marketing stroke, turning a negative (the lack of aging and consequently taste) into a selling point.

                I read somewhere that Walkers Beef and Onion flavour crisps contain no animal products, but the cheese and onion ones do (from the cheese).

                Wasn't Hitler a veggie for health reasons rather than any niceness to animals??

                Comment


                • #9
                  Originally posted by Jules
                  Most importantly to me, the thing I really object to is the attempt to own and copyright plants. Monsanto's PR scum like to imply that European resistance to GM is causing starvation in Africa, which is of course why they have developed plants that don't produce seeds (i.e. so that next year you have to come back to Monsanto to buy more seed) - because they care!

                  Wasn't Hitler a veggie for health reasons rather than any niceness to animals??
                  Right on, Jules. Thinking we own nature offends me at a couple of levels, but I get truly ill when that sense of propriety extends to barely veiled exploitation. Those types will get thier due. I believe, deep down, that Mother Nature has a way of letting us know who's really in charge.

                  As for the Hitler thing--
                  I seem to remember that one of his doctors prescribed him a vegetarian diet. I would hate to confuse his motives with those of someone warm and fuzzy like Dee. :D

                  Comment


                  • #10
                    Dee is only fuzzy because of the way he shaves his head! Warm? We might have to take his temperature...ready the anal probe...

                    Comment

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