State wants a say in how to make beer

In rural areas countrywide, drinkers of home-made beer opt for the best fermented beverage based on how the brewer prepares it. And thanks to word of mouth, people know which brewers to support and which to avoid.

But in an act of tough love, the government is proposing minimum regulations on the production, packaging and sale of beer, including traditional beer (umqombothi) and other fermented beverages, to curb the use of contaminants in some home-brewed concoctions.

Rural and township brewers, as well as the general public, have until August 4 to comment on the proposed Liquor Products Amendment Bill, currently before Parliament. Among proposed changes, the bill seeks to reconstitute the Wine and Spirit Board to include beer and provide gender-equal terminology.

The bill amends the Liquor Products Act, which controls the production and sale of liquor products in the country.

Currently, the act deals with liquor products derived from grapes, such as wines and spirits, but excludes other alcoholic beverages – such as contemporary and traditional beer – as well as sugar-fermented beverages, such as ale and papsak. This despite beer being the most consumed alcoholic drink in the country.

The proposed law wants people who brew home-made traditional beer to meet minimum regulations if that beer is for sale.

“What is missing in the Liquor Products Act is that as much as they are liquor, sugar-fermented beverages and beers are not covered,” said Billy Makhafola, director of food safety and quality assurance at the department of agriculture.

“So, in the current bill we are making provision for the regulation of the entire spectrum of liquor products.”

Basic minimum requirements

Makhafola told City Press this week that government would regulate products offered for sale – specifically with regard to the way in which they were produced. It would set minimum regulations for people who sell home-made traditional beer.

“Even in the rural areas where they are sold to the public, there would have to be certain basic minimum requirements that are complied with in terms of their production,” he said.

“We are not necessarily going to invade that space in terms of regulation. If you are making it for your own consumption, that’s something else. But the minute you produce beer with the intent of selling it, it has to comply with certain basic minimum requirements that will be enforced.

“We have heard of people using ingredients like battery acid in those traditional beers, apparently to make the beer tasty. There is also an abuse of sugar-fermented beverages, like ale, in areas such as Cape Town, where people are selling liquor in papsak.

“We are going to regulate even the containers that are used there, so that people do not just produce this on a large scale without it being controlled in terms of what it is.”

Makhafola said the Liquor Act, which regulates the distribution of all liquor products and is administered by different provinces, states that “anything labelled beer or ale can be sold”. However, it gives no definition on the composition of those products.

The Liquor Products Act, which is administered by the department of agriculture, is concerned about the way in which liquor products are produced and sold.

“If it is labelled, you have to have inspectors checking it,” said Makhafola.

“For instance, if you say something is Chardonnay, we have to authenticate that.”

Details on which ingredients should constitute beer will be in the regulations once a proposed law has been agreed on.

Rosina Semenya, chair of the National Assembly’s portfolio committee on agriculture, forestry and fisheries, said they were expecting interesting submissions on the new proposals, especially from big companies, which had already commented informally.

Semenya said companies had been taking advantage of loopholes in the law in the process of making traditional beer. “Some people have been adding contents that may harm people.”

Oral submissions on the bill will be heard in Parliament on August 15 and 16.

Do you agree with these proposed changes to the law?

SMS us on 35697 using the keyword BEER and tell us what you think. Please include your name and province. SMSes cost R1.50

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