New FDA proposal may change partnership between brewers, farmers

Brewers could be labeled as animal feed producers

CINCINNATI (WCPO) - Recent changes from the Food and Drug Administration could change a centuries-old practice that benefits brewers and farmers.

For years, brewers and distillers have partnered with farmers and ranchers much to the benefit of both parties.

Traditionally, brewers give their spent grain from the brewing process to farmers for use as livestock feed. This lowers the brewers’ biological waste impact, and the farmers gain an inexpensive -- in many cases free -- filler to keep their animals happy and healthy.

The Beer Institute – one of the industry’s lobbying organizations – said in 2012, U.S. brewers produced about 2.7 million tons of spent grain.

This could all change with new rules from the FDA . In October 2013, the FDA responded to the Food Safety Modernization Act by proposing new rules regarding animal feed.

According to local brewers and other industry insiders, the proposed rules would reclassify breweries as “animal feed producers.” The Brewers Association said the move would affect hundreds of brewers across the nation.

CraftBrewingBusiness.com quoted the FDA as calling out breweries specifically in a section of the proposed rules:

For example, FDA understands that many breweries and distilleries sell spent grains, such as brewers dried grains and distillers dried grains, as animal food. Because those spent grains are not alcoholic beverages themselves, and they are not in a prepackaged form that prevents any direct human contact with the food, the Agency tentatively concludes that subpart C of this proposed rule would apply to them.

Ohio brewers are understandably concerned about the changes. The owners at Blank Slate Brewing and MadTree Brewing , both in Cincinnati, said the rules would be “bad for business.”

Blank Slate owner Scott LaFollette said he would be forced to pay for the grain to be hauled away instead of a farmer taking it away for free.

The Brewers Association released a statement Thursday saying:

The current rule proposal represents an unwarranted burden for all brewers. Many of the more than 2,700 small and independent craft breweries that operate throughout the United States provide spent grain to local farms for use as animal feed. The proposed FDA rules on animal feed could lead to significantly increased costs and disruption in the handling of spent grain. Brewers of all sizes must either adhere to new processes, testing requirements, recordkeeping and other regulatory requirements or send their spent grain to landfills, wasting a reliable food source for farm animals and triggering a significant economic and environmental cost.

Absent evidence that breweries’ spent grains as currently handled cause any hazards to animals or humans, the proposed rules create new and onerous burdens for brewers and for farmers who may no longer receive spent grain and will have to purchase additional feed. Farmers also appreciate the ‘wet’ grains from breweries because it helps provide hydration for the animals.

Brewers’ grains have been used as cattle feed for centuries, and the practice is generally considered safe. We ask the FDA to conduct a risk assessment of the use of spent brewers’ grain by farmers prior to imposing expensive new regulations and controls.

The proposal does have an exemption for smaller companies. The FDA could set a threshold on feed sales that would determine whether or not the breweries would be regulated. It remains to be seen whether this rule would affect brewers who simply give the grain away.

The Caraker Law Firm wrote a post on the issue saying such facilities would be required to have:

  • A written food safety plan
  • A hazard analysis
  • Preventive controls for hazard(s) that are within reason to occur
  • Recall plan for animal food with a hazard that is within reason to occur
  • Monitoring
  • Corrective actions
  • Verification
  • Associated record keeping

The new rules would also force brewers to adopt specific practices in regards to the handling of the feed if they were giving it to farmers.

If the rules pass without changes, breweries and distilleries that meet the threshold would have to adopt the changes. Also, the law firm said if the company picks a new method of disposal, they would have to file that process with the TTB (the administration that oversees breweries).

Due to the outcry from brewers, distillers and fans of both, the FDA extended the comment deadline to March 31 . Several industry groups such as the Brewers Association , Beer Institute and the American Malting Barley Association have voiced concern over the rules and are calling for an exemption for brewers.

There are some possible alternatives for smaller brewers. Dan Valas, owner of Great Crescent Brewing , said he has looked at creating procedures

to comply with the new rules if they are implemented. He has also contemplated giving the grain to his local 4H club for students who are raising animals.

The Aurora-based brewer said he is talking with Purdue University to see if the grain could be used for composting, small gardens, urban gardens or other opportunities.

“It never hurts to have more than one way to ‘get it done,’” Valas said.

Whether this issue could affect the price of beer at the bar or grocery store is still up in the air. If breweries are forced to adopt the changes it could force companies to increase product prices, or more likely stifle expansion and hiring.

To view the complete rule, click here.

For the FDA fact sheet on the rule, visit click here.

For more on the brewing scene in Cincinnati, go to wcpo.com/beer .

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