Booze you lose? Industry slams beer ad playing on probiotics and good for gut claims

By Tingmin Koe

- Last updated on GMT

Australia's beer brand Pirate Life has been criticised by the probiotic industry for capitalising on therapeutic terms such as ‘pro-biotic’ and ‘good for the gut’. © Getty Images
Australia's beer brand Pirate Life has been criticised by the probiotic industry for capitalising on therapeutic terms such as ‘pro-biotic’ and ‘good for the gut’. © Getty Images

Related tags Probiotic Gut health Australia

The probiotic supplement industry has slammed an online beer advertisement for capitalising on therapeutic terms such as ‘pro-biotic’ and ‘good for the gut’ which were permitted for being only “tongue-in-cheek” by an alcohol marketing regulator.

The Australian beer brand, Pirate Life, recently received consumer complaints for the marketing in relation to its Kiwifruit and Cherry Sour Ale.

“Pirate Life’s Kiwifruit and Cherry Sour is ripe for the picking!

“Every five thousand litre batch we brew is infused with over 750kg of fruit and acquires it’s tartness from the pro-biotic Lactobacillus – so it’s good for the gut! Well, sort of!”​ said the advertisement.

Australia’s quasi-regulatory system of alcohol marketing regulation, ABAC, had dismissed the complaint, referring to it as a “tongue in cheek”​ reference.

Responding to queries from NutraIngredients-Asia, ​the trade body Complementary Medicine Australia held a different view.

“I find the claims hard to swallow. These are clearly therapeutic claims in a beer glass, and I am sure that Australia’s therapeutic regulator the Therapeutic Goods Administration may well have a view on the probiotic claims being made,”​ said CEO Carl Gibson.

In an adjudication statement, the ABAC opined that the “more probable interpretation”​ of the advertisement was that it was a “tongue in cheek reference to the brewing method using probiotic lactobacillus, which brings to mind products like yogurt.”

It said a reasonable person would, therefore, not take the health claims literally.

Probiotic supplement brand Life-Space responded that such marketing tactic does not negate the fact that the term ‘pro-biotic’ had been used outside of its standard definition.

As we see supposed probiotics cropping up in anything from mattresses to beer, we might like to revisit the World Health Organization’s (WHO) official published definition of a probiotic,” ​said David O’Reilly, education manager at Life-Space.

According to the WHO definition of  2006, a probiotic refers to live microorganisms which when administered in adequate amounts confers a health benefit on the host.

“There appears to be an increasing trend where non-probiotic commercial entities capitalise on the word ‘probiotic’, distorting not only the definition, but a consumer's view of how probiotics can influence gut health,” ​O’Reilly pointed out.

The International Probiotics Association (IPA) said it could not opine on the ruling which the ABAC or other regulatory authorities had made, adding that different jurisdictions handle such marketing claims differently.

Executive director George Paraskevakos said the organisation was working towards harmonizing standards for the probiotic industry to help place everyone on the same page.

Don’t undermine true probiotic beer

In addition, there are concerns that Pirate Life’s marketing tactic might undermine legitimate research of probiotic beer.

Life-Space cited the work done by the National University of Singapore, which has developed a beer​ which incorporated the probiotic strain lactobacillus paracasei L26.

The beer had met the recommendation set by the International Scientific Association for probiotics and prebiotics to have a minimum of one billion probiotics per serving in order to attain maximum health benefits.

Life-Space added that it was imperative for commercial probiotic businesses to lead with education and highlight evidence that supported the true definition of a probiotic.

“Even if regulatory frameworks continue to dismiss such complaints, we must ensure consumers can differentiate between Lactobacillus and Lactobeercillus,”​ O’Reilly said.

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