Is Beer Food?

There has been an ongoing topic of debate in the craft beer community on how certain laws apply to the beverage alcohol manufacturing industry. Specifically, whether animals should be allowed in facilities that produce and serve beer. Currently, there is a disconnect between the written law and how the common law is applied. Several breweries have dogs or cats that either work at those breweries or support the staff by reducing their mental load. While live animals do not belong in a food preparation environment, the applications of those laws towards beverage alcohol are where it gets confusing. Should beer be treated as a food substance for consumer safety, or not? Beer is a controlled substance for consumer safety and for taxation collection purposes, but it should not be in the same category as food handling practises.

Beer comes from four simple ingredients: barley, hops, water, and yeast. It can be called “liquid bread” since the connections and histories of either product are incredibly tied and shared. The understanding of how to make bread and beer is a cornerstone in mankind’s progression to civilization. The importance of safe drinking water is paramount, and for the longest time, it was the making of beer that allowed for water to be safe. The sugars from barley and the compounds from hops in combination with heat and yeast allow water to be free of disease and pathogens. Until Germ Theory established how sickness was spread through bacteria and viruses, it was a method to ensure the safe consumption of water from unsafe sources.

The next major step in food safety came in the progression in food supply legislature in North America during the Progressive Era where solutions from individual and group actions took place to resolve criticisms of increasing industrial capitalism. It is a fine balance between democratic inclusiveness and direct-action governance. In a form of journalism, the spark that ignited the debate is a book called The Jungle by Upton Sinclair. As an expose to the terrible working conditions that plagued the slaughterhouses of Chicago, readers were more concerned on the meat handling practises than the treatment of the workers, the consumer reaction resulted in several pieces of legislature such as the Pure Food and Drug Act and the Meat Inspection Act. In combination with the advancements of photography to document these stories, the starting point of contemporary food health and safety started at this time. These were enacted to help protect consumers from spoiling foods and the pathogens that they harboured.

Shortly thereafter, a clear difference between what was food and what was not was needed, Prohibition. While the overall goal was to reduce and eliminate the consumption of hard spirits and change the culture towards consumption of alcohol, the laws dictated by the Volstead Act classified any intoxicating beverage that contains more than 0.5% ethanol by volume. The direct action as a result of the Constitutional amendment forced a clear division between products that contain alcohol and those that do not. Beverages are still divided between “soft” and “hard” in English vocabulary to designate if there is alcohol contained within. It was this cultural shift that grouped beer and wine into an umbrella term with hard spirits that separated them from food. Any resulting legal restrictions come from a perspective of control first and consumer safety second.

Does this mean that beer should be considered food? Debating about the written word is not just important to the legal system, it is the foundation that Western law is built upon. The current issue with beverage alcohol and food safety laws is that it is not specifically referencing beverage alcohol to be food first. It is not necessary for beverage alcohol workers to comply with food handling practises and regulations. Nor is it necessary for food service staff to comply with a similar level of care with regards to beverage alcohol in terms of sanitation. So, should beer be considered food? At this point, it is unjust for a governing body to pick and choose food handling laws to apply to beverage alcohol when it is convenient and to disregard them when it is favourable. At the same time, any regulation should either promote a baseline for consumer protection in a way that is not confusing nor open to interpretation. It is not necessary to hold beverage alcohol to the same standard as food handling for consumer protection, however, they should come from a place that protects consumers instead of controlling the manufacturing and sales of the product.


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