An alcohol policy expert calls for an end to antiquated alcohol excise tax laws, which are unfairly penalizing kombucha producers across the country. Though kombucha only has trace amounts of alcohol (generally below the 0.5% alcoholic beverage threshold), it is “nearly impossible for kombucha producers to control the entire supply chain,” writes Jarrett Dieterle, Director of Commercial Freedom for R Street Institute and the author of forthcoming book “Drink For Your Country.” If not properly refrigerated once it’s left the manufacturer for distribution, kombucha will continue to ferment and raise the alcohol level. Dieterle said it’s unfair to make kombucha makers pay fines of more than $10,000 when they can’t control how the drink is stored once it enters the supply chain. Protecting kombucha, he says, should be a priority for federal lawmakers.
Read more (Washington Examiner)
The yogurt Los Angeles Times calls “the best yogurt in America” was forced out of California in 2011. White Moustache, which sells Greek and Persian yogurts with seasonal fruit common in Iranian cuisine added, moved to Brooklyn in 2012 after California Department of Food & Agriculture shut them down. According to California state law, making a milk-based product in a facility separate from the facility where the milk was pasteurized is illegal. Though White Moustache founder Homa Dashtaki produces her famous yogurt in New York, she now sells it in California — Manhattan’s brand of Eataly opened a Los Angeles store, and Dashtaki’s family members oversee production for the West Coast store.
Read more (The Los Angeles Times)
Brewers may finally get a break on a costly tax levied against them since 1791. Bipartisan lawmakers in both the U.S. House and Senate are backing legislation that would permanently reform taxes on brewers, winemakers, distillers and alcohol importers.
The bill – called the Craft Beverage Modernization and Tax Reform Act (CBMTRA) – reduces the federal excise tax on alcoholic beverages. It lowers tax rates for beer, wine and other fermented spirits, like cider. Small brewers save on average $80 million a year without the extra tax.
“Taxes are the single most expensive ingredient in beer, costing more than the labor and raw materials combined,” writes the Beer Institute, a trade organization. “If all the taxes levied on the production, distribution and retailing of beer are added up, they amount to more than 40 percent of the retail price.”
Alcohol excise taxes were the first tax on a domestic product by the U.S. government, and one of the government’s first revenue sources. First collected in 1791, the taxes led to the infamous Whiskey Rebellion tax protest. The purpose of the tax was to help war debt from the Revolutionary War.
Today, though, the government still taxes goods like alcohol and tobacco as part of the “sin tax” logic. Such goods are considered harmful, as alcohol and tobacco consumption is linked to heavy healthcare costs, some paid by taxpayers. Excessive alcohol consumption causes 88,000 deaths a year, an estimated economic impact of $249 billion.
In 2017, the first version of the CBMTRA was passed, under a two-year provision that will expire at the end of 2019. That legislation amended tax law, including:
- For smaller domestic brewers producing fewer than 2 million barrels a year: Reduce federal excise tax from $7 per barrel to $3.50 per barrel for the first 60,000 barrels.
- For all other brewers and beer imports: Reduce federal excise tax from $18 a barrel to $16 a barrel on the first 6 million barrels
- For large brewers with a barrelage over 6 million: Federal excise tax kept at current $18 a barrel.
Brewers, lobbyists and trade associations are pushing for the tax reduction to remain permanent. They point to the huge economic impact the alcohol industry has on the U.S. economy. The U.S. beer industry alone created more than 2.19 million jobs that paid more than $101 billion in wages and benefits in 2018. And, with the increasing popularity of craft brewing, those numbers are rising.
“The craft brewing industry can be found in nearly every Congressional District in the U.S. and contributes more than 500,000 jobs, including an additional 15,000 directly added at small breweries just last year, showcasing the positive momentum supported by temporary provisions,” said Bob Pease, president and CEO of the Brewers Association. “The industry is responsible for contributing more than $76.2 billion to the U.S. economy and is a success story for American industry.”
The wine industry, meanwhile, supported 1.73 million jobs that paid more than $75.7 billion in wages in 2017. Though the cider industry doesn’t have specific numbers on jobs, the cider market grew faster in 2018 than the beer, wine or spirits industry.
“Many of our members are small producers with direct investment in agriculture here in the United States,” said Paul Vander Heide, president of the United States Association of Cider Makers. “This will provide them additional security for their families and capital to invest in growth opportunities for their business.”
After the CBMTRA enactment in 2017, 99 percent of small brewers saw a 50 percent reduction of their federal excise tax. A survey by the Brewers Association found those savings sparked a variety of economic gains for the craft brewing industry:
- 73% of breweries are purchasing new equipment, upgrading their tasting rooms and breweries, moving to new buildings, etc.
- 53% of breweries are hiring new employees
- 39% are increasing their employee benefits by raising pay, offering insurance and expanding vacation time
- 21% are increasing their charitable contributions
- 58% are doing two or more of the above-mentioned actions
Added Bobby Koch, president and CEO of Wine Institute: “The savings will allow wineries across America – most of which are small, family-owned businesses – to hire new employees, upgrade equipment, and invest in the future growth of their wineries.”
Information and updates on the bill can be found on the Congress website. The bill was introduced by Rep. Ron Kind, D-Wisconsin, Mike Kelly, R-Pennsylvania, Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Oregon and Roy Blunt, R-Missouri.
On the cusp of an announcement from KBI on standards defining kombucha, GT Dave — founder of GT’s Kombucha — gave KBI a $1 million endowment to protect authentic kombucha. Speaking to attendees at the annual KombuchaKon, GT said: “Kombucha is now being mass produced by some newer brands that have entered the market and they are positioning them for a mainstream palate. These barely fermented products are missing the heart and soul of what the industry of kombucha should be, and it’s looking more like a new age soft drink.” GT believes kombucha brands need to be upfront about what techniques they’re using to make their kombucha, like pasteurization, hyper-filtration, artificial carbonation, concentrate use and/or spinning cone technology.
Read more (Food Navigator)
Consumers are in favor of allowing plant-based food to use traditional dairy terms on their labels — but dairy farmers are strongly opposed to it. Last year, the U.S. FDA issued a public comment period to examine if plant-based foods and beverages should use the traditional dairy names: milk, cheese and yogurt. The results are out. Of those comments, 76 percent were in favor of using dairy terms on plant-based products, 13.5 percent were against and the remaining 10.5 percent were inconclusive. Of the commenters that identified themselves as dairy farmers, nearly all were opposed. Dairy farmers are concerned consumers will believe plant-based foods are nutritionally similar to cow’s milk (94 percent) and that consumers are being misled with a dairy term on a plant-based item (91 percent).
Read more (Linkage Research)
Oregon lawmakers are attempting to end the alcoholic beverage tax placed on kombucha. One of the fastest growing fermented produce and beverages, many kombucha brands are based in Oregon, and state leadership on both sides of the political fence realize how critical kombucha is to Oregon’s economy. “I’ve met with kombucha manufacturers in Oregon who have told me how this outdated tax is holding back their industry,” said Rep. Greg Walden (R-Hood River). “This bill will help these small businesses keep more of their hard earned money to reinvest in their businesses and create jobs in our communities.” The bill – called Keeping our Manufacturers from Being Unfairly Taxed while Championing Health Act (or KOMBUCHA) – would increase alcohol-by-volume limit for kombucha from 0.5 percent to 1.25 percent. Currently, fermented beverages containing at least 0.5 percent of alcohol by volume are taxed through federal alcohol excise taxes.
Read more (Oregon Public Broadcasting) (Photo by: Humm Kombucha)
The voices of organic and natural advocates are critical to public policy, and change in the food system starts with farmers, food producers and even parents feeding their family in a healthy, sustainable way.
“Your voices matter more than ever. You are the reason we’ve seen so many changes in our food system over the past 85 years,” said Sen. Debbie Stabenow (D-Michigan), keynote speaker at Natural Products Expo West in Anaheim, Calif. Stabenow is the Ranking Member of the U.S. Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry and the co-author of the 2018 Farm Bill. “We’ve made progress, but there’s a lot more to do. That’s where all of you come in. “
Legislation is catching up with consumer desire. For the first time in U.S. history, organic food is permanently protected and protected under the current farm bill. The farm bill is the government’s primary food and agriculture policy tool, and it’s renewed every five years.
Organic food is a movement that’s been rising for decades, Stabenow said. Though it may feel like the organic industry just took off, Stabenow said “It’s moving more quickly now because of the incredible demand from the public. … Organics is the fastest growing part of our farm economy, so we made it a priority in the farm bill.”
“Now more than ever before people are paying attention to what they eat. They want to know where their food comes from and how it’s grown. … People are also becoming more interested in the hands that plant the seed, the soil in which they grow and the impact on our family’s health.”
The farm bill is the best example of how food policy has changed. The first farm bill was established in 1933, during the Great Depression. A national organics program wasn’t put in the bill until the 1990s.
The organic industry has grown from $3.6 billion in 1997 to over $50 billion today.
Stabenow is proud of the policies added to the 2018 Farm Bill, passed in a difficult political climate. Republicans control all parts of the federal government. And President Donald Trump has pushed for such tight regulations on the organics program that he’s been accused of “waging war” on the organics industry. But bipartisan support helped pass what Stabenow called “the most progressive farm bill yet.”
The major bill highlight for the organic industry was the establishment of permanent, mandatory funding for organics. Stabenow compared it to organics previously sitting at the “kid’s table” with temporary funding for organics that was depleted and reevaluated every five years.
“I’m proud to say we’re now at the adult’s table,” Stabenow said. “What does that mean? It means organic research and provisions will live on past the current farm bill. It means farmers markets and food hubs and community food provisions will continue to grow the local food movement.”
With organics finally protected, Stabenow said, it’s time to look at new ideas. What can propel the next farm bill with healthy and sustainable policies?
“As creators, as innovators as advocates you really are the engine driving our country to a more sustainable future, and I can’t think of anything more important than being able to do that,” she said.
There are beer wars over fermentation practices between two of the country’s biggest beer brands. MillersCoors is suing Anheuser-Busch over a Bud Light Super Bowl ad that shamed Miller Lite and Coors Light beers for using corn syrup during their brewing process. The controversial ad shows the Bud Light King trying to figure out what to do with a giant corn syrup barrel delivered to their castle by mistake. The Bud Light knights attempt to deliver the barrel to both the Miller Lite and Coors Lite castle, since both beers have corn syrup in their ingredients. MillersCoors says the ad is false advertising. The brand says corn syrup is used in brewing to aid the fermentation process, but their final product does not include corn syrup. MillerCoors also alleges that Anheuser-Busch is playing on consumer’s fears of corn syrup. Focus groups show consumers view no difference between corn syrup and high-fructose corn syrup. Dietitians say corn syrup is not unhealthy in brewing, but high-fructose corn syrup is an additive linked to obesity. The lawsuit also alleges Anheuser-Busch also uses corn syrup as a fermentation aid in some of the brand’s other drinks (Stella Artois Cidre and Bud Ice). MillerCoors is asking Bud Light to stop the ad immediately and pay all of MillerCoors’ legal fees.
Read more (CNBC)
When in doubt, throw it out? Smell check? Taste test? Eyeball it? Food date labels have become so confusing that many consumers use their own sensory check to decode food expiration dates.
The food industry noticed. “Use By” dates are becoming uniform, with nine in 10 grocery store products now printing consumer-friendly labels. By 2020, all products will carry a simplified date. The 10 date-label categories will pair down to two – “Best if Used By” and “Use By.”
From Farm to Trash
Critical to food product relabeling is curbing massive amounts of food waste. A study by Harvard Law School’s Food Law and Policy Clinic and the Natural Resources Defense Council found more than 90 percent of Americans are throwing away food before it goes bad because they misinterpret the food label.
“Expiration dates are in need of some serious myth-busting because they’re leading us to waste money and throw out perfectly good food, along with all of the resources that went into growing it,” said Dana Gunders, NRDC staff scientist. “Phrases like ‘sell by,’ ‘use by,’ and ‘best before’ are poorly regulated, misinterpreted and leading to a false confidence in food safety. It is time for a well-intended but wildly ineffective food date labeling system to get a makeover.”
Over 40 percent of the American food supply doesn’t even make it to a plate. That amounts to $165 billion worth of food that’s thrown away annually. Food waste has become the single largest contributor of solid waste in U.S. landfills. The USDA and EPA set the first national food waste reduction goal in 2015: 50 percent less food waste by 2030.
The product labeling initiative was launched in 2017 by the two largest grocery trade groups – the Grocery Manufacturers Association and the Food Marketing Institute. Geoff Freeman, GMA president and CEO, called it a “proactive solution to give American families the confidence and trust they deserve in the goods they buy.”
The standardized labels are not mandatory. They are voluntary.
The USDA Food Inspection and Safety Service made the recommendation in 2016 for food manufacturers to to apply “Best if Used By” to product label. But the industrywide label standardization is not government mandated.
“Virtually every discussion included concerns regarding waste generated as a result of consumer confusion about the various date labels on foods and what they mean,” said Mike Conaway, R-Texas, the House Agriculture Committee Chairman. “I am pleased to see the grocery manufacturing and retail industries tackling this issue head on. Not every issue warrants a legislative fix, and I think this industry-led, voluntary approach to standardizing date labels is a prime example.”
Dozens of consumer packaged goods brands and retail companies voted unanimously to change expiration dates exclusively to “Use By” by January 2020. Major brands like Walmart, Campbell, Kellogg and Nestle all spearheaded the change.
The 2020 date was set to give companies time to change dates on their packaging. It also coincides with the release of the new FDA nutrition facts panel.
The old labels – which included options like “Sell By” and “Display Until” – left consumers in a guessing game. Most products don’t include an explanation of the date, like whether it’s a descriptive feature for the store or the consumer. Even grocery store workers were confused. Employees were polled and reported they, too, cannot distinguish dates on food labels.
The new labels mean:
- “Best If Used By” – quality designation. This is the date the food manufacturer thinks the product should be consumed for peak flavor.
- “Use By” – safety designation. Perishable food is no longer food after this date.
Legal Change on Horizon
Is a government mandate likely?
Currently, the only product federally regulated for expiration dates is infant formula. There is no legal definition for food expiration dates in most states. And state food labeling standards vary widely – 20 states restrict stores from selling products after the expiration date, while 30 states don’t enforce such a rule.
The Food Date Labeling Act was introduced to Congress in 2016, but no further action has happened. The act would legally require food date standardization, and require the USDA and Department of Health and Human Services to educate consumers on date label meanings.
Interesting, the proposal also questions the subjective nature of expiration dates. It states no one could “prohibit the sale, donation or use of a product after the quality date for the product has passed.”
Blending ancestral kitchen traditions and new scientific research will allow fermentation to change our diet — and our planet.
In a TEDx Talk, Mara King, co-founder of fermented food store Ozukè, shares why she is proudly releasing trillions of good bacteria into the population. Her food philosophy rubs against everything the Food and Drug Administration and state health departments practice. While government agencies enforce strict sanitation standards in the name of protecting American’s food, King preaches that it’s wiping out good bacteria and dumping more toxins into the environment.
When King and co-founder Willow King (no relation) opened their Colorado-based food business, a food scientist from the Denver office of the Health & Human Services Department performed a safety inspection. The food expert was confused by Ozukè’s live, fermented pickles, sauerkraut and kimchi. King: “He said ‘Your product is so weird. We follow all these FDA guidelines in food manufacturing in order to diminish bacteria and here you are making it on purpose.’”
“The food we make is actually super, super, super safe, unlike mots processed packaged fresh foods,” King says. “The reason this food is so safe is not because I’m better at this antimicrobial Macarena than anybody else. It’s because the bacteria are doing the work of making the fermented foods pretty much bomb proof.”
Though numerous cultures have been fermenting for generations (“It’s how humans have been eating raw, crunchy vegetables all through hard winters.”), King notes it’s only in the last 10 years that scientists have been able to map the complex fermentation process. By letting bacteria thrive in its own ecosystem, it “creates a food that’s no longer harmful to humans” and makes a more nutritious product.
“Nature does not operate in a vacuum and neither should we,” King says. “We need to understand the complexity of the world in which we live, then we can start to come up with solutions that do honor our heritage.”
King, who great up in Hong Kong, says older Chinese women store an impressive knowledge of food and medicine. Merging ancient tradition with new science is what will create the living solutions needed to continue living on our planet.
“In fermentation, we have a little trick that we use which is called using a started culture or a mother. I believe that our starter culture…is our human cultural history,” King says. “Once we start tapping this information…we’ll start to come up with amazing solutions, solutions that grow, solutions that rot, solutions that breath.”
Today Ozuke (which means “the best pickled things” in Japanese) still makes pickled veggies, but also teaches fermentation workshops. For more information, visit their webpage.