Spent grains, a brewing byproduct long fed to livestock, might end up in landfills if the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) does not lift its heavy hand when it comes to the newly proposed animal food rule, cattle producers say. And, while the multi-billion-dollar ethanol industry has not yet weighed in on this controversy, one state’s beer-makers and their politically endangered U.S. senator have mounted a pushback.
Although not nearly as big as the ethanol industry, Colorado’s craft breweries contributed $836 million to the state’s economy last year, with their operations becoming integral to the economies of cities on the Front Range as well as to the ski towns of the Rockies such as Aspen and Vail.
With about 140 craft breweries in Colorado, there are enough that every college and/or tourist town can have a few of their very own beers. Brands such as New Belgium, Odell, Oskar Blue and Left Hand sell enough to land in the nation’s top-50 lists of craft beers; many now dominate the taps of bars and restaurants across the U.S.
But, like craft breweries around the country, Colorado beer-makers have a problem. Spent grain from the brewery process commonly finds its way to farms, where it is used as animal feed. A new animal food rule from FDA, drafted to help implement the Food Safety Modernization Act, could make those brewery-farm relationships too costly to continue.
The animal food rule would subject producers of spent grains – from whatever source – to new and expensive FDA food-safety requirements. (See the Food Safety News story published today on comments brewers’ groups have submitted about FDA’s proposed rules.)
In one of those intersections of economic clout, linking Colorado’s craft breweries with the need to shore up U.S. Sen. Mark Udall’s (D-CO) shaky reelection prospects, spent grains are suddenly right up there with health care and traffic congestion as statewide issues.
Udall fired off a letter Monday to FDA Commissioner Margaret Hamburg demanding that she put the proposed animal food rule aside until a “risk assessment” can be completed on the reuse of spent brewery grains as animal feed.
“I support a robust framework of smart regulations that minimize unnecessary risk and keep our nation’s food supply safe,” Udall wrote. “This particular part of the Animal Food (Rule), while well intentioned, does not seem based on evidence of risk or hazard. I hope FDA will reconsider its initial interpretation and formally review the body of evidence that exists in abundance on this particular topic to determine if in fact spent brewers grains warrant designation as ‘animal food.’”
Udall claims new regulatory treatment of brewer’s grains is not justified, adding, “Perhaps most relevantly, the U.S. Department of Agriculture has decades worth of data that demonstrates the history of spent brewers grain used as animal food. This information does not reveal to my knowledge any evidence that dedicating spent brewers grains for agricultural use has ever compromised food safety to animals or humans.”
The liberal Democrat stated that brewers and farmers have a longstanding partnership based on sustainability and environmentally responsible practices.
“This rule after all is about establishing risk-based controls and so I hope the agency will avail itself of existing documentation that details the decades of real world experience that brewers and farmers have had and have reported to USDA,” Udall added.
Udall’s letter does not specifically address distillers grains from ethanol production. Distillers grains have been widely used by livestock producers, especially those located in close proximity to ethanol-production facilities.
Udall is facing a tough challenge from U.S. Rep. Cory Gardner (R-CO). The conservative Republican hails from Weld County, which is on the receiving end of much of the spent grains and where livestock feeders say they might have to look for alternatives if it gets too pricey.
The national Brewers Association conducted a member survey in 2013 that found 90 percent of the spent grain produced by beer-makers is fed to livestock.© Food Safety News