“Whether wine is nourishment, medicine or poison…it is a matter of dosage. The same applies to beer.” 16th Century German Physician

This year’s edition of the Nigerian Beer Symposium actually lived up to its billings as Nigeria’s top celebrities across academia, social and political circles converged at the Latana Hall of Eko Hotels, Victoria Island, Lagos, the venue of the event.

The beer symposium tagged: ‘Beer and Culture’ drew participants – Nollywood actors, academia, scientists, and nutritionists - from far and near.

Managing Director of Nigerian Breweries Plc, Mr. NicolaasVervelde in his welcome remarks stressed that the objective of the Nigerian Beer Symposium has been to highlight and share contemporary knowledge on the wonderful product called beer.

So, not a few Nigerians were shocked last week when the Consumer Protection Council, CPC in a press statement claimed it has “commenced investigation into the veracity of the recent widely publicized claims of the Nigerian Breweries Plc (NB) regarding the health benefits of beer consumption, alleging that the claims are capable of luring unsuspecting consumers into unwholesome consumption of the product.”

The Council, in a statement signed by its Director General, Mrs. Dupe Atoki, listed some of the claims, which include that beer is not an alcoholic beverage and that if taken regularly and in moderation has many defined nutritional and health benefits and can indeed be part of a healthy life style.

Many analysts and consumer right activists have described the Council’s statement as standing logic on its head. First, the Nigerian Breweries Plc merely provided a platform in form of the symposium and did not make any official pronouncement.

Secondly, while all the papers presented at the symposium were submissions of the various experts present at the forum, the CPC has not presented its own counter claims to oppose the views of the experts. The body has pointed an accusing finger at the NB Plc. The Council has also conveniently ignored a key part of the symposium which emphasized moderation as an important element of responsible drinking.

It should be recalled that in the last three years, Nigerian Breweries has provided the Nigerian Beer Symposium as an industry platform to canvass the positive story of beer and educate consumers and key stakeholders on responsible drinking.

Experts – microbiologists, dieticians, nutritionists, medical doctors, sociologists, etc – have been regular faces at the forum which have attracted local and international attention.

At this year’s event, Mr. Donald Duke, former governor of Cross River State, who chaired the occasion, noted that research shows that beer contains xanthohumol that inhibit cancer-causing enzymes. “I have always wondered about the French. You see, their diet consist of rich, highly fatty foods, wine and those cigarettes. Yet, their rate of heart disease is significantly less than the rest of the world. This has been credited to red wine and the antioxidants it contains, which help prevent heart attacks. Interestingly, beer has just as many antioxidants as red wine,” he said.

Duke also added that beer is a lot safer than the local bottled water.  “If you find yourself someplace where you are advised not to drink the local water, the local beer is always a safer bet. It is a lot safer than the local bottled water. So just follow the rules of beer drinking and you will be fine,” he advised.

Professor Innocent Ujah, a professor of Obstetrics and Gynecology who is the current Director General of Nigerian Medical Research Council, Lagos, disclosed that consumption of moderate quantities of alcohol is associated with a decreased risk of Cardiac disease Stroke, and Diabetes mellitus.

According to him, Brewer’s yeast is known to be a rich source of nutrients; therefore, as expected, beer can contain significant amounts of nutrients, including magnesium, selenium, potassium, phosphorous, selenium, biotin and chromium.

Also speaking at the occasion, Ted Mukoro, a veteran advertising expert maintained that beer is certainly the least alcoholic of all alcoholic drinks, and also the healthiest and most nutritious. According to him, like all enjoyable and exciting things made by nature– alcohol, sex, sports,dancing – beer can be irresponsibly abused or over-used. “Nothing enjoyable is bad until put to the wrong use,” he said

At the same event last year, a nutritionist and food technology expert, Mrs. Dolapo Coker submitted that a moderate intake of beer can positively impact the health and wellbeing of women.  Coker, a fellow of the Nigerian Institute of Food Science and Technology, FNIFST also warned that alcohol abuse impacts the health of the woman through the direct interaction of alcohol with organ systems such as the brain, liver and gastro intestinal system, when the alcohol is ingested and transported through the blood.

Coker added that beer is an alcoholic beverage, but it can be classified as food, because of its nutrient value. She listed the nutrients to include: carbohydrates, like dextrins and polysaccharides; proteins in the form of amino acids; load of vitamins like the B vitamins, vitamin C, folic acid etc; minerals like magnesium, potassium, silicon, selenium etc; it contains fibre like betaglucans etc.

Also speaking at the symposium, Dr. Henk Hendricks, a biologist and a project leader in the Institute for Food and Nutrition in The Netherlands explained that moderation level of beer consumption is beneficial to cardiovascular health.

 According to Hendricks, some of the inherent advantages of beer include: Low percentage of alcohol; large quantities of water; its role in rehydration;  a good source of minerals; a good source of polyphenolic antioxidants;  contains anti-inflammatory xanthohumoles; and a large variety of raw materials, including gluten-free' Rich in fibers.

Professor Emevwo Biakolo of the Pan Atlantic University Lagos, who was the Chairman of the conference, also submitted that moderate beer intake in the elderly appears to be associated with significantly longer survival in men aged 60–74 years and in all elderly women. “There is evidence that moderate alcohol consumption may be associated with better cognitive function in old age,” he said

Today, there are about forty thousand types of beer in the world in an industry that employs millions of people directly and indirectly. However, the world of beer is still shrouded in many myths and misconceptions. Some of these are easy to contemplate, while others, downright ridiculous
Beer gets a bad press, owning to many misconceptions. It’s regularly blamed for many of society’s ills but the reality is that society as we know it is, in large part at least, only here because of it.
Despite the fact that millions of beer consumers enjoy the alcoholic beverage responsibly, all over the world, there are others who misuse or abuse it. They as a result, create social problems for themselves and others, most of which are in turn, blamed on the beverage.

In fact, Nigerian Breweries PLC has remained resolute in promoting responsible consumption of alcohol and collaborating with relevant stakeholders to minimize the negative impact of irresponsible alcohol use.

To this end, the company has collaborated with about twelve global alcohol businesses in five key areas such as: under-age drinking, marketing code of practices, consumer information and product innovation, drink-driving and retailer support.

Recently, the company and the Federal Road Safety Corps, FRSC, the government agency responsible for safe driving on Nigerian roads, organised a “Don’t Drink and Drive” campaign in four states, covering 1,080 commercial drivers.  The company’s collaboration with the FRSC had, in the last six years, been directed at communication to change drivers’ behaviour towards alcohol. Also, in collaboration with the International Center for Alcohol Policy, ICAP, the company has embarked upon an evaluation of previous enlightenment programs directed at the primary target groups.

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