Rice used by Anheuser-Busch Cos. to brew Budweiser beer is tainted with an experimental, genetically engineered rice strain, according to an analysis released yesterday by the environmental organization Greenpeace. Three of four samples of unprocessed rice from the beer maker's mill in Arkansas showed the presence of the strain, Bayer LL601, Greenpeace said.
Doug Muhleman, Anheuser-Busch's vice president of brewing, acknowledged in a prepared statement that US-grown long-grained rice "may have micro levels" of a genetically engineered protein called Liberty Link, but added that the protein is "substantially removed or destroyed" during the brewing of beer sold domestically.
The St. Louis company said the rice strain "is fully approved" by federal regulators, who deemed it "perfectly safe for human consumption."
Muhleman said Greenpeace's "false and defamatory" allegations came as retaliation for the company's spurning Greenpeace's call to boycott US farmers.
"We stand in support of US farmers, who are partners with us in the quality of our products," he said in a statement. "Greenpeace recently asked us to join their advocacy campaign on genetically modified crops. We refused their calls to boycott US farmers, and they are now retaliating."
In its marketing materials, Anheuser-Busch highlights such "all-natural" ingredients as barley malt, hops, water, and yeast in Budweiser, one of the world's top-selling beers. The company says it adds rice to give Budweiser its crisp taste, clarity, and brilliance.
Greenpeace's Doreen Stabinsky, however, said US consumers have a right to know that genetically modified rice is used to create their beer. To that end, the group has cobbled together an off-color YouTube video, "Wassup With Your Beer?" The one-minute, 16-second video closes with a display advertisement reminiscent of a Budweiser commercial, except that it replaces the beer's foam with a mound of rice, and notes in capital letters that the beer is made with genetically engineered rice.
Stabinsky called the Internet campaign "a popular culture way" to alert Budweiser drinkers to an unknown fact.
Jason AlstrÃƒÂ¶m, founder of the Boston-based website BeerAdvocate.com, predicted that a "small, vocal minority" would "make a fuss" if details about genetically modified ingredients were widely publicized.
In part, that's because that genetically engineered crops, including this rice, can generate strong emotions. Critics point to genetically engineered rice grown by Bayer CropScience, a biotech company that from 1999 to 2001 unintentionally tainted two commercial varieties of long-grain rice.
"Mostly people that don't drink Budweiser, yet are against g-e foods," AlstrÃƒÂ¶m said in an e-mail. "As for your typical Bud drinker, I doubt they would care or even know what g-e food actually is."
© 2007 The Boston Globe