BANGOR, Maine — A bipartisan group of federal lawmakers have submitted a bill that would shield U.S. brewers from a proposed Food and Drug Administration rule change that brewers say would jeopardize an age-old, sustainable partnership with farmers.
Brewers and farmers across the country have agreements in which breweries pass their spent grain off to farms that use the grains to feed their livestock. They say these regulations, which require new packaging, processing and handling procedures for any food products consumed by animals, would force additional costs on brewers and prompt them to look for other means of disposing of their spent grains. For many, that would mean taking the grain to a landfill.
The legislation, called the Protecting the Sustainable Use of Spent Grains Act, was introduced Tuesday by Reps. Chellie Pingree, D-Maine; Steve Womack, R-Ariz.; Peter Welch, D-Vt.; and Cory Gardner, R-Colo. It would amend the FDA’s Food Safety Modernization Act to state clearly that the new FDA regulations regarding the handling, packaging and distribution of animal feed would not apply to brewers.
“Let’s be clear, this grain has already been used in a process safe enough to make a product for human consumption,” Pingree said in a news release shortly after the bill was submitted. “It’s silly to think it’s going to be dangerous for cows. Feeding this grain to animals is a sustainable practice that has gone on for literally hundreds of years.”
Make that thousands of years — historians say the practice has been going on since Neolithic times, for as long as agriculture has existed.
Maine Sens. Susan Collins and Angus King also sent a joint letter to FDA Commissioner Margaret Hamburg late last month calling on the FDA to consider the economic effect such a regulation would have on brewers and their partnerships with farmers.
Spent grains have been heated up to extract sugars, proteins and other nutrients that go on to make beer. The process is called mashing. The spent grains are a byproduct — with no real useful purpose left for the brewer.
To the farmer, spent grains are a valuable dietary supplement for their livestock. It’s common for breweries to reach out to local farms to offer up their spent grains as animal feed, often at little or no cost, especially when the deal is between a small farmer and a small brewer. Brewers are glad to get rid of the grain, and farmers are glad to take it off their hands.
The proposed rule is aimed at “ensuring the safety of animal food for animals consuming the food and ensuring the safety of animal food for humans handling the food, particularly pet food,” according to the FDA.
The rule was meant to ensure the safety of animal food after several instances of contamination threatened the health of pets and livestock. If there was any question as to whether the rule should apply to breweries, the FDA specifically refers to breweries in the rule language.
Pingree questioned Hamburg about the rule and its effect on brewers and farmers during a House Agriculture Appropriations Subcommittee session late last month. She called it “absurd.”
Hamburg told Pingree the FDA would find a “reasonable solution” that would work for farmers and brewers, while still accomplishing their animal feed safety goals.
Pingree’s spokesman Willy Ritch said Tuesday that the bill likely would be up for consideration by the Committee on Agriculture or Committee on Energy. However, the bill is largely an effort to keep pressure on the FDA to consider an exception for brewers and preserve the ties between them and farmers.
The FDA could move forward with an edit to its rule proposals before the legislation even goes up for consideration, Ritch said. Lawmakers, brewers and farmers are hoping the FDA makes the change on its own, because that’s a quicker fix than legislation, he added.
“We really do believe the FDA wants to do the right thing here,” Ritch said.