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The 'Food Babe' Blogger's Attack on Beer Gains National Attention, But Experts Call It 'Quackmail'

Scientists and brewers challenge blogger Vani Hari's claims about beer ingredients.​
 
 
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Earlier this month, Vani Hari, the blogger known as the “Food Babe” published a petition on her website that demanded the top beer companies come clean about the ingredients in their beer. Citing a long list of creepy, chemically-sounding ingredients that are allowed in beer, she implied that the industry was flying under the radar and obscuring the additives that they put in their products.​

The publicity stunt got Hari on the front page of the Financial Times, and highlighted by USA Today, ABC News, NBC News, and the Chicago Tribune without much question to her claims. Her stunt worked; within two days, America's two top brewers, Anheuser Busch InBev and SABMiller gave into Hari's demands and posted the ingredients of their beer products on their websites ( here and here). 

But it turns out that Hari's campaign was 'all foam and no beer' and many of the nefarious ingredients and techniques she described were either misrepresented or entirely misunderstood by her.​

Beer lovers noticed something was wrong almost immediately. One of her charges against breweries was that they  "even use fish swim bladders” in their products. But what Hari didn't know is isinglass, a powder made from the swim bladder of sturgeons has been used in beer, wine, and liquor products since the 18th century to help remove the yeast from the product. Moreover, this has never been a secret. Guinness, Fosters, Red Stripe, and Newcastle all use isinglass in some of their products and have never shied away from admitting it. But most breweries — notably the U.S. breweries that were the targets of her petition — don't use isinglass at all. So, the use of isinglass may make Newcastle's Brown Ale or Guinness' Stout not vegan friendly, but its far from the smoking-gun additive Hari made it out to be.​

But fish bladders were just the tip of the iceberg. Hari implied that brewers were including all sorts of ingredients with scary, mostly scientific, names. They included monosodium glutamate (MSG), carageenen, high-fructose corn syrup, malic acid, sulfuric acid, polyethylene glycol (or as Hari calls it “airplane de-icer” or “antifreeze”), beaver's anal gland, insect-based dyes, glyceryl monostearate, pepsin, and BPA.​

Soon after Hari's high-profile petition was rolled out, her critics — mostly scientists and brewers — took to the Internet to defend the science and ethics of brewing, and they didn't pull any punches with Hari.​

Dr. David Gorski, a cancer surgeon (and self-professed beer snob) who writes for the website Science-Based Medicine took great offense to Hari's campaign, noting that she peddles in pseudoscience and uses fearmongering to promote her cause.​

“Her strategy is very transparent, but unfortunately it’s also very effective,” wrote Gorski. “Name a bunch of chemicals and count on the chemical illiteracy of your audience to result in fear at hearing their very names.”​

Not stopping there, Gorski said what Hari did was nothing more than blackmail.​

“Unfortunately, companies live and die by public perception,” he wrote. “It’s far easier to give a blackmailer like Hari what she wants than to try to resist or to counter her propaganda by educating the public. And, make no mistake, blackmail is exactly what Vani Hari is about.”​

Gorski notes that he's in no way a fan of the large industrial breweries and likens most of their offerings to “cold piss from horses with kidney disease.”​

Taking his cue from Gorski, Forbes.com blogger Trevor Butterworth dubbed the merger between pseudoscience and blackmail “ quackmail” and chided mainstream media sources for taking Hari at her word, rather than investigating her claims.​

 
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