Brewers Association’s Statement on New FDA Rules A Little Light

The importance of having a safe food supply cannot be debated.  The best means for providing one can be debated a thousand ways.

While beer has been credited with saving the world, it might be safe to say few of us directly connect beer to food safety issues.

That changed recently when the Food and Drug Administration issued its proposed rules under the Food Safety Modernization Act which contain significant new regulations for handling spent grain.

The brewing industry has long had a symbiotic relationship with livestock producers, providing the spent grains for use as cattle and hog feed rather than sending tons of additional waste to landfills. Locally, Draught Works Brewery put that relationship on display for its customer appreciation day last November, serving bbq made from hogs which had been raised on the brewery’s spent grains.

Under the new rules, brewers who sell or donate their spent grains for animal feed would be considered animal feed manufacturers and would need to put systems in place to ensure safe handling.

While I have not run across any analysis indicating breweries could not comply with the new rules, news wires are full of articles decrying the burden created by them.

On Friday, the Brewers Association issued the following statement on the matter:

“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.”

We should not expect the FDA to wait around for problems to develop before adopting rules to ensure safe food supplies. On the other hand, there’s a significant body of evidence involving the use of spent grain from which to judge whether new regulations are really necessary.

It’s for situations like these where a trade association can really shine. A collective voice issued through a knowledgeable organization representing thousands of members with a staggering economic impact can have quite the effect.

Thus, it’s a little odd to read the somewhat wishy-washy language contained in the Brewers Association’s statement that the new rules “could” lead to increased costs and “could” lead to a disruption in the handling of spent grains.

The rules were issued in October 2013.  Has no one conducted an analysis to determine what the costs would actually be?  Conversely, has no one tried to devise a reasonable way in which to comply with the new rules? One that could be provided to all breweries as a service to the industry?

Those are the analyses I want to see. Demonstrating the actual cost and representative burden on breweries for compliance will have the best effect on the regulators.  What are the extra handling, transportation and landfill costs if reasonably compliance with the new regulations cannot be achieved?  What are the increased costs for animal feed if agricultural producers lose this source of free or low-cost feed?

I don’t need to be convinced that the new rules may indeed be fixing a problem we don’t have. I also don’t have much trouble understanding the potential exists for a significant increase in cost.  But I would like something more to support the rallying cry we’re all willing to join.

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