Recently, the U.S. State Department issued a warning to spring breakers headed to Mexico — beware of tainted, unregulated alcohol. Here in the United States, consumers can have confidence that the alcohol they purchase is safe. That is no accident. Our regulatory system for alcohol helps prevent the sale of illicit and counterfeit goods and stands in stark contrast to the recurring tragedy of deaths from fake alcohol in other countries.
In February, sad news made headlines: bootleg alcohol killed nearly 250 people in two separate incidents in India. While shocking, these unfortunate news stories are not uncommon around the world. Last year, similar tragedies took place in Indonesia and Malaysia. Closer to home, American tourists vacationing in Mexico have suffered dangerous reactions and even died after being served unregulated alcohol.
The strong relationships built between trusted community partners are also a large part of why the system has been successful. Supplier, distributor and retailer partners in our communities work diligently to protect both public health and the integrity of the products they sell. That commitment shows in the confidence Americans enjoy when it comes to the safety of their purchases. Our system is designed to keep potentially deadly products off the market by separating and licensing the companies that produce or import alcohol, distribute alcohol to licensed retailers, and sell alcohol to consumers. Keeping these responsibilities independent ensures the chain of custody provides oversight and transparency so buyers can trust that the alcohol they are purchasing is genuine and safe. It also provides traceability should a product need to be removed from the marketplace.
In a national poll gauging attitudes about alcohol, the non-profit Center for Alcohol Policy found that 89 percent of adults agree that it is very important to keep the American alcohol industry regulated. The Center’s Executive Director Mike Lashbrook explained it this way: “Americans recognize and agree that when it comes to a unique product such as alcohol, regulation is vital, and they support the states’ ability to set their own laws and regulations around alcohol.”
With these age-restricted, socially sensitive products, consumers recognize that the process to get alcohol to market must be different than other items on the menu or in their shopping baskets, and it is only becoming more important as counterfeit concerns on e-commerce sites make news here at home.
The United States’ regulatory system for alcohol has been carefully considered and time tested to keep Americans safe while at the same time growing the options available for those who want to share a beer with friends. From longtime favorites to new brews, the Center’s research “shows that consumers are highly satisfied with the choice and variety available to them in the American marketplace,” Lashbrook says.
Today the number of permitted breweries in the United States now tops 10,000 according to the U.S. government’s Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau. It has never been a better time to be a beer lover.
As America’s independent beer distributors work to provide communities with the choice and variety they have come to expect while also ensuring safety in the marketplace, the State Department’s warning serves as an important reminder. We must continue to safeguard the public safety protections of our alcohol regulation system. The stakes are just too high.
This op-ed by NBWA President and CEO Craig Purser originally ran on Real Clear Policy on April 1, 2019.