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Why Brewers Worry About FSMA

Spent grains have made a lot of headlines in the past couple of weeks.

The byproduct of the brewing process that remains after the mashing and lautering stages is commonly sold or given to farmers to feed to their livestock. But brewers have been worried that the Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA) will impose regulations on spent grains, making its transfer onerous and cost-prohibitive.

The issue came up in several comments submitted to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration regarding the proposed FSMA rule on preventive controls for pet food and animal feed, and it has also gained a foothold in the Capitol. Several members of Congress have written to FDA asking them to address it.

“The Proposed Rule would effectively end this centuries-old practice,” wrote U.S. Sens. Susan Collins (R-ME) and Angus King (I-ME). “The cost of compliance with the rule would effectively prohibit brewers from providing spent grains to farmers for animal feed.”

They and others such as U.S. Sen. Mark Udall (D-CO) and U.S. Rep. Chellie Pingree (D-ME) are concerned that regulating spent grains in the same way as commercial animal feed – requiring a formal plan for identifying and preventing potential hazards and ways to correct problems – would be too costly for small breweries in particular to continue providing them to farmers.

The Brewers Association and Udall have asked FDA to conduct a risk assessment of the use of spent grain by farmers prior to any new regulation, while the Beer Institute and the American Malting Barley Association request that spent grain be exempted from the animal feed rule altogether.

The issue has also come up in several budget hearings with FDA Commissioner Margaret Hamburg. On March 27, Pingree wanted to know why the “absurd” regulation is necessary, given that there don’t appear to be any safety issues associated with it.

“I’m not really sure how we can say that these grains are good enough to produce something for human consumption and then on the other side it’s not safe enough to feed a cow,” she said. “We have so many legitimate concerns for food safety which everyone is working very hard on. Why are we focusing on this particular rule?”

“We certainly understand why it makes economic and sustainable agriculture sense,” Hamburg told her in response. “I hope we can find a meaningful, viable solution.”

According to Paul Gatza, director of the Brewers Association, Congressional support for an exemption to spent grain regulation is not very surprising.

“Craft brewers are very popular up on Capital Hill,” he told Food Safety News. “We are small Main Street businesses that are employing people, and we’re actually a growing part of the economy.”

Ultimately, it’s an issue of “government regulation on something that isn’t a problem,” so “it’s an easy thing for them to support,” Gatza added.

One claim Pingree and some brewer organizations have made is that, under the rule, the spent grains would have to be dried and packaged before being sent to farms. That claim has since been debunked.

“I just don’t know where that ever came from,” Dan McChesney, director of FDA’s Office of Surveillance and Compliance, told Food Safety News. “The bottom line is they don’t have to dry it, and they don’t have to prepackage it.”

With drying, there’s actually the potential for a contaminant to be introduced if done incorrectly, McChensney added.

“What’s expected of them is really not much more than what they’re currently doing and certainly not how they read it,” he said.

McChesney pointed out that the uproar from brewers and their advocates is part of a larger conversation about all the byproducts that don’t meet quality standards for human food and are then diverted to animal feed.

FDA’s main concern is whether such products are held in the right type of storage container while waiting to be picked up by farmers and whether they are properly labeled and contained so that someone wouldn’t mistake them for a garbage can or an oil recycling container.

“I think these are things they’re probably already doing,” McChesney said. “They’re controlling the hazards on the front end of this when they’re regulating the product.”

FDA is currently working on clarifying what will be expected for byproducts and is likely to include the revised language in its rerelease of the rule this summer. Also still in the works is a determination of whether the alcohol-related facility exemption in FSMA applies to products going to animal feed.

Gatza said he appreciated the clarification from FDA at the beginning of April that the agency doesn’t want spent grain to go to landfills.

“I would say we are somewhat relieved by that but, of course, we are cautious until we actually see the proposed regs come through,” he said. “We won’t count anything as done until the final regs come out.”

© Food Safety News
  • Carlo Silvestr

    If it isn’t broken, don’t fix it!

  • Bill Anderson

    I can see both sides of this issue. As a cheese maker, I wouldn’t want to make cheese (especially raw milk cheese) with milk from cows fed spent grains. On the other hand, brewery spent grains are preferable to spent grains from distilleries. And I don’t see how this presents an immediate food safety concern to the public.

    • Ron Gonshorowski

      What is the difference?

  • Ron Gonshorowski

    For thousands of years spent grains have been fed to cattle.
    Remember cows are ruminate animals, they have four stomachs, so it would not affect the animal in any negative way.
    Remember Kobi beef animals get a bottle of beer every day.
    I guess we better start making bread out of this grain instead of feeding it to animals.