BANGOR, Maine — Brewers and farmers in Maine and across the nation got a reprieve last week when the U.S. Food and Drug Administration agreed to change proposed rules that would have threatened a partnership dating back thousands of years.
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. The FDA’s proposed regulation changes under the 2011 Food Safety Modernization Act would have required new packaging, processing and handling procedures for any food products consumed by animals. That included brewers, though the law was primarily made in an effort to improve food safety in response to instances of contaminated pet food coming from overseas.
Breweries of all sizes across the nation balked at the notion, arguing they wouldn’t be able to process the spent grain in a way that meets the requirements of the proposed regulation. For many, that would mean taking the grain to a landfill rather than giving it to local farmers to use to feed their animals.
The brewing industry, including the Brewers Association, Beer Institute, American Malting Barley Association, resisted. Federal lawmakers joined in, pushing the FDA to exempt breweries from the rule change.
“The FDA has gotten the message loud and clear, that this is a perfectly safe practice and should be allowed to continue,” U.S. Rep. Chellie Pingree, D-Maine, said in a recent news release. “They have even acknowledged that it just doesn’t make sense to create strict new food safety rules that would end this age-old practice.”
In its rule proposal, the FDA specifically stated that breweries and distilleries would have to abide by the restrictions.
Spent grains are grains that 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. Farmers value spent grain as a dietary supplement for their livestock, and it’s often free food because brewers are just happy to get rid of spent grain without having to go to a landfill. Similar partnerships have existed for as long as agriculture has existed.
In an April 24 blog post, Michael Taylor, FDA’s deputy commissioner for foods and veterinary medicine, backstepped, saying the rule proposals would be revised during the summer. The new version of the rules would “clarify our intent in the rules themselves so there can be no confusion,” Taylor said.
Adopting standards that would impose costs on breweries without contributing to food safety “would not make common sense, and we’re not going to do it,” he wrote. The blog post was titled “Getting it Right on Spent Grains.”
“We also believe the potential for any animal safety hazard to result from this practice is minimal,” he added, “provided the food manufacturer takes common sense steps to minimize the possibility of glass, motor oil or other similar hazards being inadvertently introduced, such as if scraps for animal feed were held in the same Dumpster used for floor sweepings and industrial waste.”
Maine Sens. Susan Collins and Angus King issued a joint statement last week saying they were pleased to hear the FDA heeded the objections of lawmakers and the brewing industry.
“We are glad to see FDA’s announcement that it has heard the very practical concerns raised by small brewers and others over the proposed animal feed rule, and are encouraged by FDA’s intention to correct course in the revised proposals,” they wrote.