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Commentary: The Beer Battle Continues

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By Gary Truitt

There are some stories that make the news and disappear the next day. Then there are stories that just linger on and on and on — long after they have ceased to be new or interesting.  Remember April the giraffe?  April is a reticulated giraffe at the Animal Adventure Park in Harpursville, New York. She gained worldwide fame after a live video of her in the late stages of pregnancy, along with the subsequent birth, were put on YouTube. The birth was watched live by nearly 1.2 million viewers. April first went live in February of 2017 and did not give birth until April 21.  The controversy over the use of corn sweetener in beer may be following in April’s footsteps.

Sparked by a Bud Light commercial during the Super Bowl that made fun of competitors who used high fructose corn syrup, the battle by big beer for the hearts and drinking habits of corn growers is a story that will not die.  During his remarks to over 9,000 farmers at Commodity Classic, Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue drew cheers and a round of applause when he said he no longer drinks Bud Light.

Perdue has been on a “don’t fear your food” campaign of late, slamming groups who claim our food supply and food safety protocols are not good. He has lumped the Budweiser attack on corn into this group.  The folks in St. Louis have responded by purchasing advertising schedules with farm media in Iowa, Illinois, Ohio, Missouri, and Nebraska (unfortunately, not in Indiana).

Coors, who does use corn sweeteners, has been responding with a PR effort of its own.  In a very effective stealth move, a Coors spokesman showed up in the media room at Commodity Classic where representatives from almost every major farm broadcast, internet, and print publication had reporters. The media lined up to do interviews, and the Bud bashing continued — almost obscuring reports on trade and ethanol.  The brewers did miss a real opportunity, however, when they failed to provide free, cold beer in the press room.

Not only has this this tempest in a tea pot stirred tempers of corn farmers, it has divided the beer industry. In the latest twist, MillerCoors pulled out of a potential partnership, at least temporarily, with Anheuser-Busch and other large breweries to promote the American beer industry. “This is an all-or-nothing proposition to us,” MillerCoors spokesman Adam Collins said this week. “As long as the industry leader is attacking an ingredient widely used across the beer industry, we’re not going to spend any time or money on an industry health campaign.” Big beer brewers are losing market share to small craft brewers, and corn growers have found themselves in the middle of the industry fight.

There are many more important items that deserve news coverage. Yet, the battle over which beer is the most farmer-friendly continues to grab headlines.