In 1978, the United States Brewers Association learned of an on-going study in Germany in which traces of nitrosamines (DMNA) had been discovered in some European beers at an average level of 2 or 3 parts per billion (ppb). Some nitrosamines had been found to cause cancer in laboratory animals. The USBA immediately informed appropriate US federal agencies and issued a public release to that effect.
Researchers had found that DMNA could be formed in the malting process, causing a complete revamping in how barley would be malted for American beers. This new malting technique included the use of sulfur during the malting procedure to inhibit the formation of DMNA. So spooked was the American beer industry that consumers would stop drinking beer that brewers, like the Coors Brewing Company, took out full-page ads extolling the fact that their original and costly processing of malt insured the fact that “There are no detectable nitrosamines in Coors beer.”
The Food and Drug Administration had been randomly testing beers manufactured in the United States and foreign imports as soon as the nitrosamine scare had begun. Their results were startling. Of the 30 American brands of beers tested, none of the domestics were found to have exceed the 5 ppb level that the FDA had established as the the maximum accepted level of DMNA in beer. Some domestics did, however, test very close to the acceptable level but the government refused to say which ones. What’s interesting about this FDA test, however, was that 3 import brands were named as exceeding the 5 ppm level. India Beer, made by Cerveceria India of Mayaguez, Puerto Rico, San Miguel Dark Beer of San Miguel Corporation of Manila, Philippines and Samuel Smith’s Old Brewery Pale Ale from Tadcaster Ltd. Of Yorks, England.
WLS-TV in Chicago, IL decided to do their own testing of beers while the very real scare was building in intensity. Thermo Electron Laboratory in Waltham, Massachusetts came up with some startling figures for the beers that they had tested:
Domestics Brand of Beer with Nitrosamines in PPM in 12 oz.
Old Style 2.5
Lowenbrau Light 2.7
Miller High Life 2.8
Lowenbrau Dark 3.7
Schlitz Lite 3.8
Schlitz Malt Liquor 7.7
Old Milwaukee 9.2
Heineken Special Dark 23.4
American and foreign brewers were given 6 months to demonstrate that their beers contained no detectable amounts of DMNA.
Here it is, 2007, and the Alcohol, Tax and Trade Bureau (TTB) is still dragging its feet on a comprehensive labeling requirement that at a minimum, would tell the consumer how many calories, carbohydrates and various other nutritional components are in beer, let alone ingredients.