In case you’re looking for another reason to go organic when it comes to beer, consider this: additives in beers are not strictly regulated in all countries.
And when I say additives, I mean, oh, say, carcinogens.
The Chinese beer industry, one of the top beer producing countries in the world, was found to include formaldehyde in 95% of beers brewed in the country as recently as 1995. Yep, formaldehyde.
Chinese brewers verified that this was true but claimed that the additive “does not pose a threat to public safety,” according to Xiao Derun, director of the beer branch of the China Alcoholic Drinks Industry Association. The chemical is reportedly used because it is a cheap way of preventing sediment from forming during storage.
Later that same year, the Korea Food and Drug Administration said it had decided to test Chinese beer imports for formaldehyde before allowing them to clear customs. The Korean FDA tested 13 brands of Chinese beer and found average formaldehyde levels to be 0.132 parts per million, below the legal limit.
Yes, that means there is a standard in Chinese law that allows formaldehyde in beer. The law allows 2 milligrams per litre; and even “organic” Chinese beer may contain formaldehyde up to 0.2 milligrams per litre. The World Health Organization has a recommended maximum limit of .9 milligrams per litre; this means that Chinese laws allow for more than twice the recommended WHO limit.
Despite the claims from Xiao that their studies found “no domestic beer that exceeded the set limits”, the China Business Times reported that a 2002 survey of 19 domestic brands conducted by the National Food Quality Supervision and Inspection Centre found the average formaldehyde content to be 0.31 milligrams per litre, more than 50% in excess of the limits.
Those that continue to put formaldehyde in beer insist that it’s safe. It is worth noting, however, that numerous studies have labeled formaldehyde as a carcinogen. Not that the spectre alone of getting cancer from beer isn’t enough to convince me to stick to the major Chinese breweries this day, but I just can’t shake the image of formaldehyde being used for embalming corpses (shudder). Pass me another Samuel Smith, please.