State wants a say in how to make beer

CityPress - - News - ANDISIWE MAKINANA andisiwe.makinana@city­press.co.za

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.”

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.

PHOTO: LEON SADIKI

HOME-MADE Tra­di­tional brewer Leah No­bela from Let­sitele in Lim­popo says she makes sure that her cus­tomers al­ways get a prop­erly pro­duced bev­er­age

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