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Staying the course.

Staying the Course

The brewing industry has weathered many storms over the course of this century, from the long night of Prohibition to the whirlwind of consolidation. The final decade of this millenium is going to present the industry with equally difficult challenges.

The twin spectres of taxation and temperance are upon us once more. Not that this should be a surprise. As the saying goes, if there is one thing that's certain, it is death and taxes. And in America, there will always be the third certainty, a vocal temperance movement.

The taxation threat is certainly the most pressing. If taxes were to increase to the levels being discussed, a significant drop in consumption would be likely. That would damage every level of the three-tier system, in terms of both lost income and lost jobs. It would have a particularly dire effect on this country's burgeoning microbrewing segment.

The brewing industry has acted vigorously in its own defense, and to its credit, industry giant Anheuser-Busch has been at the forefront. Despite the brewer's spoiling attack, however, this will be a hard fight to win. Legislators are scrambling for every scrap of revenue, and it will be difficult to entirely avoid an increased level of taxation.

Nonetheless, the industry's aggressive moves against the beer tax are welcome. In the best of all possible worlds, the campaigns would raise enough populist outcry to smother the idea stillborn. More realistically, the outcry could help keep impending taxes within reason.

It is important for every part of the brewing industry to unite on this question, to get the word out that the proposed levels of taxation are unacceptable. It must be made clear to legislators that the American people resent a regressive tax on a staple like beer.

Fighting the second prong of the threat against the industry is more difficult. Temperance in this country is as old as the Puritans, and will continue as a facet of American life. Today's neo-prohibitionists are simply carrying on a long and proud tradition. However, while non of today's groups are quite as militant as Carrie Nation and her disciples, they may prove just as destructive.

The difficulty in opposing these groups lies in the fact that at bottom their argument is sound. Temperance, or moderation, is a worthy philosophy for life. Modern medicine has taught us that excess in all things is to be avoided.

Still, it must be pointed out that Americans do not drink an inordinate amount of beer to begin with. The Germans, the Danes, the English - even Luxembourgers - drink considerably more beer per capita than Americans.

Then too, the healthful benefits of beer should never be overlooked. Studies indicate moderate consumption can reduce risk of heart disease, a leading killer of Americans. Moderate consumption of beer also improves the quality of life in myriad intangible ways. It lightens the spirit, stirs the muse and improves demeanor.

Nonetheless, some of the neo-prohibitionistic groups have very strong moral foundations. It is difficult to oppose groups like MADD and SADD, because their objectives are identical to those of the industry. No one in the brewing industry advocates drunk driving. Our families are out on those roads too. Still, these groups will continue to view brewers and wholesalers as their opponents.

There are a couple of possible solutions. One would involve making penalties for drunk driving appreciably harsher. It is not at all certain that Americans would welcome that prospect, however. Draconian laws like those in Scandinavia would only serve to rile people up.

It seems the best solution lies along the path the industry is already taking - making continued efforts at educating the populace in the responsible use of beer. Adequately funded, these efforts will someday bear fruit.

In the meantime, the most important response is not to allow the industry to be browbeaten into submission. Beer is a worthy product, and providing it to the people is a noble endeavor. There are 80 million beer drinkers in this country, and they appear to enjoy what they are finding on the shelves. They should be encouraged to continue enjoying this liquid staff of life - in a responsible fashion.
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Title Annotation:brewing industry
Publication:Modern Brewery Age
Article Type:editorial
Date:Sep 10, 1990
Words:694
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