Feds Taking Kombucha Off Shelves?
No, we’re not kidding. Help us stop this unwarranted attack. Action Alert!
The Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau, a division of the US Treasury Department, recently sent letters to several producers of kombucha, warning them that since their beverages supposedly exceeded the allowable alcohol limit, they must be labeled as alcoholic beverages and be subject to alcohol regulation or face hefty fines and legal action.
Kombucha is a fermented tea drink brewed with yeast and bacteria. The drink contains trace amounts of alcohol, but it typically falls below the federal limit of 0.5% alcohol by volume.
Why is this happening? Is there a safety concern? Not in the least. On the contrary, kombucha appears to be very good for you. It seems unlikely that the government would go after kombucha without prodding from some special interest. Has the soft drink industry detected a threat from a rapidly growing market and decided to use the power of the federal government to eliminate competition? There doesn’t seem to be another explanation.
The facts of the case reveal just how outrageous this investigation is—further suggesting that crony interests may be pulling the strings. The government is using the same alcohol test for kombucha that it uses for wine, beer, and spirits. But the organic acids and natural sedimentation in kombucha can be read as ethanol, which throws off the results of the test.
Rep. Jared Polis (D-CO) sent a letter to the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau explaining that their testing methodology is flawed. Polis asked them to stop their harassment of the kombucha brewers until a unique testing method can be devised that is appropriate to the specific chemistry of the beverage.
Polis notes in his letter that the alcohol level can sometimes rise slightly above the federal limit, but only if the kombucha is incorrectly stored at warmer temperatures, which also spoils the drink. Polis wrote, “Eight spoiled kombuchas are roughly equivalent to one beer, but that doesn’t mean we should regulate it like we do alcohol—it makes absolutely no sense.”
Polis in past years also introduced a bill to allow food and supplement producers to tell their customers about good peer-reviewed, university research on the health aspects of their products. And he has supported the sale of raw milk. If only we had more members of Congress like him!
Unpasteurized kombucha contains the “good” bacteria that promote gut health and boost immunity. But if kombucha is regulated like alcohol, many supermarkets and convenience stores won’t be able to sell it, and it is unlikely that health-conscious consumers would travel to liquor stores to stock up on the drink.
Liquor is also very heavily regulated—by states as well as the federal government. Out-of-state shipping may be barred, and prices may be fixed by regulation. The probiotic benefits of kombucha would also be denied to anyone under 21. The combination of these factors would likely lead today’s producers to decide that it’s no longer profitable to make kombucha, thus restricting—possibly eliminating—consumer access to it. Or, just as likely, Big Food (especially soda) companies would simply take over the market.
Action Alert! Send a message to the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau urging them to stop this ridiculous attack on kombucha. Please send your message immediately.
So now what? Forget regulation... brew your own...