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Monday, January 26, 2015


People now and then contact me seeking a guest article in this blog.  Sometimes I agree with them, and sometimes I don't.  I happen to be mostly a pro-GMO advocate and I drink more alcohol than I should, but I like to present opposing points of view.  Too high an imbibition rate, for example, supposedly causes 79,000 deaths/year just in the USA, so my contributor certainly has a good point.  Here is a posting from Claire Harding, a travel and tech reporter.


The Environmental Impact of the Alcohol Industry: and Why Your Beer Might be GMO 

Most people enjoy a good tipple; the office Christmas party, a celebratory drink to wet the baby’s head, birthday anniversaries or just to be social at your local bar – drinking alcohol forms a part of the lives of many, but few consider the environmental impact of alcohol usage, either globally or individually.

The Pesticide Problem
Most beer is not organic and hops farmers use a large amount of pesticide on their crops – spraying them up to 14 times a year with multiple pesticide products. Pesticides are now known to cause lots of health problems including cognitive dysfunction, certain cancers, fertility problems and endocrine disruptions. Despite this only 0.04% of hops are organic.

The Fuel Pollution Problem
Many beers are not brewed locally and if you include the transportation of individual ingredients prior to manufacture as well as the importation of the finished product, your beer can travel thousands of miles before it even reaches you. This means more carbon dioxide emissions that contribute to global warming and increase respiratory diseases in both adults and children. Choosing to drink locally brewed beer could reduce the mileage to just a few hundred miles and reduce the pollution.

The Energy Problem
Beer production is an energy intensive process that uses compressed air, water and electricity as well as fuel for transportation. Most breweries use five to eight barrels of water for every barrel of beer that is produced and home brewing may not be much better. US brewery companies spend around $200 million on energy.

The Raw Material Problem
Other items used in beer production, such as plastic, wood, paper and glass, may not be recycled. Of glass sent to be recycled in the USA, only 40% of it is recycled into new glass. This compares unfavorably with Scandinavian countries – for instance, Denmark – that recycle 99% of their glass bottles. Consumable product such as spent grain could also be wasted, although some companies now give their used grains to farmers for animal feed.

The Toxic Ingredients Problem
Another slightly different environmental issue is that of the ingredients of beer. Beer may contain genetically modified organisms (GMO’s). This is because beer can be made using corn, high fructose corn syrup and dextrose – all corn derivatives. Many of these are GMO because farmers don’t separate GMO seeds from non-GMO seeds. Even organic farmers can find it hard to assure that their products contain no GMO if a neighboring farm grows GMO seeds. Cross-pollination can occur in windy conditions.

To minimize the chances of inadvertently consuming GMO beer, the conscious consumer could buy German beer. This is because Germany has strict food purity laws and they impose liability for the accidental contamination with GMO’s. They have enforced controls over the release of GMO’s and have already banned GMO maize cultivation and the experimental planting of GMO crops.

Buying organic beer can also be a more health conscious choice as organic beer manufacturers aren’t allowed to put any GMO’s in their beer but due to non-existent measures to prevent cross-contamination this isn’t guaranteed. You can always check with your local organic farmer as to how close he is from a GMO plantation.

Aside from the issue of genetic modification, high fructose corn syrup is now known to contribute to heart disease and obesity.

The Social Problem
Alcohol usage also has a negative impact on health and welfare services. Alcohol can be addictive and excessive drinking cost the US $223.5 billion in 2006. 11% of total healthcare costs are caused by excessive drinking as well as 72% of costs resulting from loss of workplace productivity. 9% of the law enforcement and criminal justice system bill results from drinking too much with another 6% added to the bill for drink/drive crimes, but these figures are an under-estimate as they don’t take into consideration the victims of drink related crimes and the pain and suffering experienced by them.

High average daily alcohol consumption causes an average of 79,000 deaths every year in the US.
There are lots of advantages to giving up alcohol. Apart from the obvious freedom from addiction, forgoing the hangover and not wrecking your marriage or your career, NOT drinking means you save lots of money that you would have otherwise spent at the bar, you don’t have to keep visiting the WC during a show, you get to keep your seat instead of wandering back, pint in hand, to realize someone else has taken your place. You can also take up new hobbies and get a better social life if you have more money and time to do other things you enjoy.

Even if you don’t have an alcohol problem, cutting back is good for your health and for the planet.

What can be done about Alcohol and the Environment?
  • Buy organic beer and check that your organic producer isn’t near a GMO farm
  • Buy locally to reduce pollution from transportation
  • Find out if your local farmer will re-use beer bottles. If not, recycle them
  • Ask your brewery what measures they are taking to conserve energy and if they use solar panels to heat their premises
  • Consider brewing your own beer
  • If you brew your own beer, you could keep chickens and feed them the grains (or give them to a livestock farmer in exchange for free eggs!)
  • Always follow medical guidelines on the safe drinking limit for men and women and have some food with your drink as you can become intoxicated on an empty stomach
  • If you think you have an alcohol dependency problem, seek medical help to stop drinking. If you are addicted, having a small amount of alcohol can lead to binge drinking. To avoid becoming a statistic, you should invest in your future by joining a recovery program.
While perhaps a melange of contradictions, I regularly post on health matters and consider myself, too, to be an environmentalist, for the whole purpose of this blog site is to save Planet Earth and Humanity.  I've also taught Environmental Engineering at the University of Hawaii, plus another course entitled Technology and Society, where I typically had a hundred or so students from across the campus help save Planet Earth.  One of those classes actually got funding from the National Science Foundation and published a book (left) on renewable energy, which the State Department of Education used as a textbook in high schools.  In two years this publication will be 40 years old.  I just took this photo, looked through the contents, and was amused that the material remains useful today.


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