Feds Crack Down on Kombucha Drinks Again, Industry Pushes for Clearer Regulations

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Feds Crack Down on Kombucha Drinks Again, Industry Pushes for Clearer Regulations

Should kombucha drinks be regulated like alcohol? The fermented tea-like beverage is all the rage in natural food stores for its purported health benefits, but according to the U.S. Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau, it differs little from alcoholic beverages.

Earlier this summer, the U.S. Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau cracked down on manufacturers of kombucha drinks, over what the agency says is too much alcohol that occurs in the fermentation process. The agency sent fine letters to manufacturers for failing alcohol tests (the agency won’t disclose how many products failed the tests or how many companies were fined).

Fans of GT’s Kombucha, the best-selling brand in the $600 million kombucha category, may remember back five years ago when the company’s beverages were being pulled from many store shelves over similar issues with alcohol levels.

“What we’re concerned about here is that when a consumer picks up a product, they know the product is alcoholic,” bureau spokesman Tom Hogue told the Associated Press.

According to kombucha producers, there’s a significant distinction between their products, which are hailed as probiotic multi-cure drinks, and say, a can of beer. “Kombucha makers complain that the alcohol threshold that triggers the law — 0.5 percent — is too low to intoxicate people, pointing out that many fruits naturally ferment on shelves to about the same level,” the AP reports.

But those claims haven’t stopped federal authorities from cracking down on kombucha producers.

Several months ago in Los Angeles, authorities raided an event for distributing alcohol without a permit when the product in question was locally made kombucha.

“It’s almost like a witch hunt,” Tom Nieder, founder of Companion Kombucha in St Louis, told the Associated Press.

Now, kombucha producers say they’re working to help clarify the distinction between kombucha and alcoholic beverages. “We’re working on a more accurate test that will show people that kombucha is not an alcoholic beverage,” Hannah Crum, head of the Los Angeles-based Kombucha Brewers International group, an industry advocate, told the AP. And the ATTTB says it will consider using the tests.

But in the meantime, if you’re purchasing kombucha drinks at your local market, expect to be asked to show ID verifying that you’re over age 21.

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