Monday, March 02, 2009


Today's item shows how measures for allegedly protecting people from terrorism frequently cross over into irrationality and bureaucratically mandated harassment. While doing nothing that wasn't already being done with regards to the safety of a consumable.

"Two [San Luis Obispo] brewers were eager to open their new pub, but first they were told they had to protect the beer from terrorists," wrote the alternative weekly, New Times SLO, a few days ago.

"As far as they can tell, they may be the only guys in the country who have been forced to fortify their brewing tanks, and no one can give a clear answer why."

The full story -- "Federal regulations force microbrewery to get terrorist-proof" -- is here.

One can furnish a rating on the potential for radical terrorism in San Luis Obispo, a quiet California central coast tourist destination.

There is none. One is more likely to be stung to death by bees than be the target of a terrorist attack in SLO.

The [federal Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau] forced [Creekside Brewery owners] to better protect their product," continued the piece. "Exactly why they had to do that isn’t quite so obvious ... It took some prodding, but [the owner] said the [TTB representative] finally told him the wall was needed to prevent someone from poisoning the beer. What’s more, she told him it was a post-Sept. 11 measure that fell under the supervision of the Department of Homeland Security ... New Times tried to track down precisely which anti-terrorism precautions required that the tanks be behind walls, with no luck."

"Paul Gatza of the national Brewers Association said the Creekside case is the only one he is aware of nationwide where the tanks had been forcibly terrorist-proofed."

What follows within the story is the display of a thicket of agencies and representatives, all pointing in each other's direction. Upon examination, it becomes obvious that many US government officials cannot know the nature of security regulations or even the various responsibilities and limits of agencies said to be allied in the war on terror.

"[Art Resnick] of the TTB believed the security rules for breweries were derived from the Bioterrorism Act of 2002, which he believed to be enforced by the Food and Drug Administration under Homeland Security," continued New Times SLO.

As readers have noticed over the past year or so, the FDA has no power to enforce any safety rules, anti-terror or otherwise. It can only do inspections and make reports, the latter of which can have a major effect, if a food or drug is found to be poisonous. This has been made abundantly clear in the Peanut Corporation of American scandal.

Keep in mind, the business motivations between a microbrewery and a peanut product manufacturer supplying the entire country are rather different. The first, like a winemaker, wishes to furnish a premium consumable at an upmarket price for a niche clientele. The latter wishes to supply something cheap at a maximum profit margin to as many other corporate customers as possible. And so the potential exposure to the public is quite different between the two.

"FDA spokesman Michael Herndon said the administration does not regulate alcohol," reported the newspaper.

"It gets even more puzzling," continued the article. "Herndon said the Bioterrorism Act does not reference breweries. When asked again, [a Homeland Security official] re-emphasized that Homeland Security does not deal with alcohol regulations ... The Bioterrorism Act, while it is intended to protect food from being spiked with poisons, does not require physical security barriers."

In the case of the salmonella outbreak caused by Peanut Corporation of America, the Bioterrorism Act could only be used to enforce the seizure of PCA records.

"So what’s the real terrorist threat at microbreweries?" asks the SLO reporter.

None worth mentioning, since it is difficult to poison beer fermentation, even accidentally. One can make bad beer or something no one wishes to drink, but the first people to know are brewmasters who are, in a manner of speaking, the security pointmen.


Anonymous sam_m said...

Remember, they will strike where you least expect it.

aka "Let them eat fear".

1:26 PM  
Anonymous User_Hostile said...

I went to Cal Poly in SLOtown, along with a friend of mine who was studying horticulture. She was stung by a bee, went into anaphylactic shock, and was clinically dead for a couple of minutes (Out-of-body experience, etc.). Went into Public Health, rather than the Peace Corps as a result. So, technically speaking, the bees have already killed someone in SLO.

Which brings us to a subject you failed to mention: the possibility of terrorist bringing in genetically modified killer bees into the United States…whoops, I guess that makes Brazil a supporter of transnational terrorism. I say we invade for their newly discovered offshore oil.

Perhaps Creekside Brewery will come up with new lineup like "Anti-Terrorist Lager," "DHS Porter'" or "Transportation Security Ale" (TSA for short)--with the slogan: "If we don't brew it, the terrorist will win.”

3:58 PM  
Blogger João o Ião said...

Ever been to Belgium?
Lots of breweries (really good ones I must say), lots of Turks and middle eastern looking people (because they probably are).
Can you imagine the horror?

One thing I soon learned was NEVER get my kebbab from belgish looking people, talk about dangerous food.

Always go for the the one supplied by dark small looking foreign people(much better and a lot safer I must say).

3:35 PM  
Blogger Bob said...

A few years ago, INTERPOL investigated an insider tip that terrorists were considering contaminating the outside of beer cans and hamburgers for sale at soccer matches.

Back around 1997, some nutty cult sprayed a salad bar with some sort of bio contaminant.

There's also a fear that the mere purchase of brewing equipment can be employed as a way to culture bio-agents.

You can Google for more info about these events, but it has been happening.

6:52 AM  
Blogger George Smith said...

Yes, you can read about some of these things -- and how many of them were false alarms or aspirational mutterings -- because I've written about them.

As for the salad bar event, that was the Rajneeshee at The Dales in Oregon. And it now mostly serves as an example in discussions of how rare bioterrorism is, not how likely it is to happen.

Consider the London ricin ring that wasn't. The plan was to smear poisons on door handles. But the plans were nothing but rubbish as is easy to see here.

9:29 AM  

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