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CO Craft Breweries Enlist Vulnerable U.S. Senator in Pushback on Spent Grains

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
  • If this does pass, one alternative to land fills for the spend grains would be composting and selling it to vegetable farms and gardeners.

    • Big D

      We are talking about millions of tons of spent grain…not a handful here and there….

      • There’s a huge market for cow manure and mushroom compost in bags. Heaven knows we have millions of tons of cow manure, too.

    • Jenny

      Probably not, since the FSMA also makes it more difficult to sell compost by imposing new regulations in that area, as well.

  • Ryan

    The volume is so large from these breweries and human alcohol facilities that the animal feed industry is the only industry large enough to absorb the spent grain. There is decades and decades of a mutually benefical relationships that exist between farmers and brewers that exist because of this nutrient-rich animal feed. The current system creates a true win-win-win for the consumer, farmer, and brewer as the price of the feed is quite low compared to alternatives and is accepted as a very safe feed.

  • Michael Bulger

    If the breweries are already producing their beverages under sanitary conditions, how much additional costs are associated with selling byproduct to livestock producers?

    I would imagine that they already have many of the systems, standards, and paperwork in place. Can anyone shed more light on their concerns?

    • CommonSense

      Obviously brewers produce food grade products and thus food grade co-products (brewer’s grains). The difference is that the left over grains are not immediately shipped out in all facilities. Large breweries have handling systems and ship grains daily while smaller ones might ship weekly. These left-over grains still have starch value to animals as well as bacteria. Having been a brewer for a brewpub, the risk is minimal if handled reasonably. This law is being brought about to help the consumer, but is not being enacted by individuals with experience. Both parties could have their agenda met if it were proposed to set time limits on storage based on storage conditions before shipping grains. Understanding a risk is different than enacting a law. There aren’t enough government officials to get out and evaluate each place’s conditions specifically so this is why we end up with “blanket” rules and regulations.

      Overall the law will be a good thing because there are people who only care about their bottom line and not the products they are making, both beverage and feed. Fortunately for us, most brewers are very aware of what they do because slight quality differences affect them very much. Advancing consumer health and knowledge (not just awareness) is a difficult thing to do and it always costs someone money up front but years later we benefit as a whole. Progression is a good thing. Cheers!