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It is quite safe to say that Germans take their beer very seriously. So seriously, in fact, that a 497 year old law, the oldest food related regulation in the world, still guides the making of German beer today. The Reinheitsgebot, or Purity Law was ordered by Duke Wilhelm IV of Bavaria in the year 1516 to protect the population from unscrupulous brewers using potentially harmful cheep ingredients in the production of their product. The law at the time stipulated that only barley malt, hops, and clean water may be used. The Reinheitsgebot relaxed the strict adherence to these ingredients with the discovery of yeast, and now also allows for the production of wheat-based beers common in Bavaria. Sugar from cane or beets is allowed as well. Corn and rice, commonly used in beer made outside of Germany and, of course, any and all chemicals remain verboten. Many German brewers proudly display the Reinheitsgebot on their labels.
Fracking, the process of drilling and injecting water and other chemicals into the ground at a high pressure in order to fracture shale rocks to release natural gas inside, is as contentious an issue in Europe as it is in the United States. The potential for ground water contamination is often cited as the biggest danger associated with the practice. The powerful German beer industry is now stepping up and placing pressure on the government's fracking plans over their fear that it could contaminate beer's main ingredient, water.
There is an estimated 2.3 trillion cubic meters of underground gas reserves in Germany, making the European gas industry salivate at all that money to be made, whatever the cost to the environment. European Union Energy Commissioner, Günther Oettinger, argues that fracking should be undertaken in all of Europe and that Germany should be no exception. Germany's Environment Minister Peter Altmaier responded that individual governments and not the European Union should be allowed to decide what is best for them.
Fracking is not yet a technology that we can use in Germany,” Altmaier told ARD. “I want the related decisions to be made locally, where one knows the circumstances, and not somewhere in Brussels.Yet Angela Merkel's coalition government has gone forward, drafting legislation that would allow fracking in certain areas of the country while placing restrictions in sensitive areas. This has been met with strong opposition, with the Social Democrats asking for a moratorium on enacting legislation until environmental impact studies can be completed and the Green Party calling for an outright ban on the practice. The Brauer-Bund, or The Association of German Breweries, has sent a letter echoing demands on a moratorium until the security and safety of groundwater can be assured.
We are concerned that fracking endangers the brewing water that more than half of Germany’s breweries take from private wells,” Marc-Oliver Huhnholz, a spokesman for the group, said today by phone from Berlin. “And that it threatens our absolutely pure beer.” The association has sent a letter voicing its concerns to six Cabinet ministers including Environment Minister Peter Altmaier, he said, confirming a report in Bild newspaper today.In the United States, environmental concerns over fracking made by beer brewers would be laughed at by the powerful industry and their lobbyists. But Germany isn't likely to laugh. Beer runs deeply in the German culture and is instilled in the very sense of German identity. Having the Brauer-Bund weigh in over the contamination threat to beer is bound to get people stirred. It remains to be seen whether or not Germany's brewers will have an impact on plans to introduce fracking in the country. However, the basic tenants of the Reinheitsgebot have stood for 497 years and is not likely to go quietly into the night. I'll prost to that.
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