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New regs could shut off craft brewers’ taps

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Government meddlers have chosen their next victim: craft breweries.

N.C. beer lovers should be concerned about a new regulation going into effect next December. That’s when the FDA’s Food Safety Modernization Act will require brewers to provide nutrition information for every brew on tap at a restaurant or grocery store with 20 or more locations. Beer falls under FDA jurisdiction because it is considered a food product.

The lab work required to provide the required information costs more than $600 and takes weeks. The equipment to perform the tests in-house costs more than $100,000. While big brewers might not notice this cost, it’s prohibitively expensive for much of North Carolina’s growing craft beer industry. Most craft breweries make dozens of brews and rotate their selections frequently, which makes labeling especially burdensome.

Craft breweries are a hot part of North Carolina’s economy. The state has 132 craft breweries centered around urban areas like Charlotte, Asheville and Raleigh. It creates thousands of jobs and tourism dollars. These breweries are already hampered by high excise taxes and low distribution limits. New burdens will slow or halt our progress toward becoming an East Coast beer capital.

This is not the FDA’s first attempt to further its control over craft brewing. In 2014 it fortunately heard craft brewers’ concerns and exempted them from a proposed regulation on the sale of spent grain from breweries to local farms, a centuries-old practice.

The Food Safety Modernization Act is a sweeping expansion of the FDA’s power to regulate food from farm to table. These new labeling requirements are likely just the first step on a path toward more regulation. The FDA acts under the guise of public safety, but the result will be higher prices at the tap and less product variety for consumers.

Gochenour is a visiting assistant professor of economics at Western Carolina University in Cullowhee.

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