Yesterday I posted about the changing organic regulations for beer – that beginning in 2013, organic hops must be used for a beer to be considered organic. I posed a number of questions and we heard from three different breweries about their organic hop situations. I also mentioned a conversation I had with someone working at a homebrew shop about organic malted barley. They said that the difference between organic and non-organic grains are negligible. I disagree completely and I promised to dig through a book I have, and in this book there is a whole chapter devoted to addressing the chemicals used on grains. And I’m going to post that information below.
The book is called Fermenting Revolution by Christopher Mark O’Brien. I read it over a year ago and did a section-by-section review of the book on my beerandscifi twitter account as I read through it. So, I wanted to share with you some of the information in this chapter. First I want to tell you that this is not a full list of all the chemicals talked about in the book, but it is more than half. All the text I’m using here I’ve pulled directly from the book, and I’ve indicated where I changed some of the wording. The book, in general, I thought to be a good read. Very informative at times, at other times maybe a little cheesy, but got me thinking a lot about the potential of the beer industry to rethink sustainable business practices.
The other thing I want to say first is that I’m a little nervous in publishing this post for a couple reasons. The book isn’t totally and completely thorough. What I mean by that is that there are all these pesticides and chemicals talked about in the treatment of barley, rice, corn, wheat but from the reading we never know if this is the exact stuff that’s used specifically on brewing grains or non-brewing grains. I’m not sure how to find out. With that said, it still makes and interesting list. Also, I’ve checked out the data from New Belgium about the carbon footprint of a six pack of their Fat Tire Amber Ale. Pretty interesting document. Under the grains and hops sections they identify that there is a host of chemicals used in production but “the [Greenhouse Gases] associated with these chemicals are vanishingly small when allocated to a single 6-pack of [Fat Tire].” That is, of course, in relation to all the various other things that also go into existence of a 6-pack of the beer, including shipping the grains, malting, the glass bottle, the adhesive for the label, the transportation of the beer itself, etc. I just wanted to point that out. But on the flipside, remember that in the post yesterday New Belgium did indeed tell us that the carbon footprint is actually lower for shipping organic hops from New Zealand than it is to use non-organic hops from the US. Just interesting to note all that…
After reading this list, I’m curious to know what you all think about organic beers, whether you care or not if your beer is organic, if it means anything to you, etc. Without further ado, here are some of the pesticides and chemicals listed in the book Fermenting Revolution used for the production of grains:
[Round Up contains the active agent Glyphosate, which was reported in California to be the] third-most commonly reported cause of pesticide illness for agricultural workers. For landscape maintanence workers it ranked highest…Barley, planted a year after treatment still contained residues at harvest time. According to a study led by RL Tominack that included Monsanto’s own toxicologist, ingestion of Round Up has been shown to cause “irritation of the oral mucous membrane and gastrointestinal tract…pulmonary dysfunction, oliguira, metabolic acidosis, hypotension, luekocytosis and fever.”…It has been linked to non-Hodkin’s lympoma, the worse of the two main forms of lymphoma….Spraying of Round Up prior to planting barley increased the severity of Rhizoctonia root rot and actually decreased barley yield. (pgs 174-75)
Dicamba is an herbicide used to kill unwanted broadleaf plants in corn and wheat crops. In humans, exposure to dicamba is associated with the inhibition of the nervous system enzyme acetylcholinesterase and an increased frequence of non-Hodkin’s lymphoma…Dicamba also causes genetic damage in human blood cells, bacteria, and barley…[It is mobile in soil and has been found to contaminate] groundwater in at least 17 US States. (p 175)
Triademefon is a fungicide used on grains, fruit trees, vegetables, and grapes. It is a known carcinogen but was long used as a food additive in milled barley and wheat. [It was banned in 1985.] (pgs 176-77)
Malathion is one of the most extensively used organophosphate insecticides around the globe…Not only does it kill a wide variety of fish [when it’s used near any natural body of water], including steelhead trout, striped bass, and starry flounders, it inhibits plant photosynthesis, growth and respiration of wheat seedlings, and causees damage to the chromosomes in pollen cells from barley plants, resulting in chlorophyll mutations…Based on [FDA] residue analyses, it is the most commonly detected pesticide in food products…In 1988 the EPA estimated that children could be consuming [it] 1,133% and adults 507% over the amount currently determined to be unsafe. (p 177)
Ethyl parathion…is considered to be one of the most toxic pesticides currently in use worldwide and has been shown to be responsible for the deaths of thousands of birds. It has also killed domestic mammals, including humans, in cases where applicators mishandled the chemical. It’s toxicity promted the EPA to restrict its use in 1991 to nine US grown crops, including brewing grains like barley, corn, sorghum, and wheat. (p 177)
2,4-dichlorophenoxyacetic acid…is applied to wheat, corn, barley, rice, and oats…toxic to the eye, thyroid, kidney, adrenals, and ovaries/testes. In 2003 The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported than children aged 6-11 had significantly higher levels of it than youth aged 12-19. It has been linked to childhood cancers including leukemia, NHL, and some brain cancers. (pgs 177-78)
[Diazinon has ethylbenzene and zylene, both of which are chronically toxic. In barley it causes abnormal cell division in root tip cells. It’s use has been linked to an increased risk of non-Hodkin’s lymphoma.] In 1990 the FDA found that it was the eighth most commonly detected pesticide out of 200 analyzed. Two EPA surveys found it to be the 6th most frequent cause of accidental death due to pesticides and the sixth most frequent cause of pesticide-related hospitalizations. (p 178)
Endosulfan…is currently registered to control insects and mites on 60 US crops, including barley. Yet many other countries have banned its use out of concern over its health and environmental effects, and they have found and implemented safer alternatives. This neurotoxin is rated by the EPA as a Category I pesticide with extremely high acute toxicity. Health effects of accidental exposure include central nervous system disorders such as dizziness, convulsions, and loss of consciousness. Exposure has been linked to dozens of deaths in the US and around the world. (pg 180)