Human Practices

Public Opinion

Could your beverage cost you your life? Methanol is a highly toxic substance that can lead to death and It can be present in your Friday cocktail. Did you know that? Well, we really want everyone to know.

Methanol contamination was sometimes reported in the media as a result of illegal beverages and had serious consequences. Most people are not aware of the dangers of noncommercial alcohol consumption. Drinks contaminated may be distilled, fermented, or brewed from a wide range of different ingredients. These beverages have low costs because they are largely outside of government control and as a result are not taxed. Consequently noncommercial alcohol is often not subject to good standards of quality and purity.

In Brazil, for example, cachaça, a distillate made ​​from sugar cane is produced legally and illegally. There is evidence that most of the production is illegal. In 2012, a research was done by scientists from Unifesp with producers, sellers and consumers of alcohol in the city of São Paulo (SP) and found the presence of methanol in 37% of cachaça, liquours, wines, cognacs and whiskeys analyzed in a percentage above of that permitted by law.

The relationship between the type of beverage and health is a factor very important to consider. In order to prevent the contamination problem we have developed a device that allows detecting methanol in beverages. Moreover, in parallel with this project it was necessary to collect data to shed some light on how people perceive the problem and how they would receive our solution.

The lack of data on non-commercial alcohol consumption, as well as on the knowledge of people about the risks that these drinks offer, makes it difficult to attack the problem and give it a contribution. The symptoms of contamination and also what to do in this case are not widely disseminated too. Thus, it is very possible that most people are not aware of the danger. People can already have ingested adulterated drink, feeling strong symptoms but without knowing what it was. But it is also possible that there are people who know the risks involved in illicit drinks, but are attracted by the low cost of the product.

Our survey was conducted with several people in different age groups to check on their knowledge and concern about the risks of methanol. We also asked about what they would think of having a product that detects methanol in drinks and if there is any concern about the product considering it is made ​with genetically modified microorganisms.

Figure 1: amount of men and women participating in the survey.

The results highlights important points and demonstrates that there is still much work around awareness and publicizes the danger of consuming beverages without knowing its origin and production. Of all interviewees only 48% knew the risks of methanol (39% women, 57% men) before our disclosure, and just 51% said to be worried about this contamination problem (54% women, 49% men).

Figure 2: some of the questions in the survey and answers divided by gender.

The importance of having an access mechanism for the control of methanol is quite evident. We realize that, although there is not unanimous concern with methanol, people are in favor of a device that brings more safety and prevention, 96% are in favor (98% women, 94% men). This device would be useful for producer as well as for a consumer who regularly drink.

Regarding the device being developed with genetically modified organisms, we are concerned in exposing to the consumer what the product is, explaining how it works and explaining all part of biosecurity (a question that has been quite studied by us). Thus, we want to know their opinions and concerns regarding a theme that is not always understandable. Even though we know it just depends on the scientist, based on scientific criteria, study all this security problems as well as define whether the genetically modified organisms in question are a final product without risks or not, and as such, likely to be used by the industry. But we were pleased to see that 90% are in favor the device even with the knowledge that we use genetically modified organisms (93% women, 89% of men).

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