Proposed FDA rules could cost beer brewers millions

Brewers in Colorado push back against restrictions

LONGMONT, Colo. - A fight is brewing over used grains.

Beer brewers in Colorado are opposing a proposed federal rule concerning leftover grains, known as spent grains. They're often used to feed animals.

Brewers say new FDA standards could result in the grains being dumped in landfills.

At Longmont's Oskar Blues Brewery, the spent grains end up at farms like Hops and Heifers.

"It's a perfect cycle,"  said Geoffrey Hess at Hops and Heifers Farm. "Fed correctly, it can really help supplement the low protein grass that we have. Especially here in Colorado. We have a great system in place, and for many years it's been utilized as a great high protein supplement for animals."

"To create a healthy, protein-rich supplement for the grass fed diet of our black Angus cattle," said Chad Melis with Oskar Blues.

Rather than haul it away and feed it, the FDA is proposing restrictions that would require brewers to dry out the mash, package it and then feed it.

"It would create an additional challenge for sure. And really, an additional business," said Melis. "It probably wouldn't be affordable."

At New Belgium brewery in Fort Collins, several tons of mash are created daily and shipped to dairy and beef cattle farmers.

"And it's worked this way for many, many decades," said Bryan Simpson, spokesman for New Belgium. "To take that away, or make it more difficult, doesn't make a lot of front line sense in my mind. To the best of our knowledge, there's never been a case of human or animal illness associated with this process."

The Beer Institute in Washington is pressuring the FDA to fix the costly proposal. If it doesn't change, it could create a huge amount of waste.

"It would be very cost prohibitive, even for a large brewery like us to put in the equipment and infrastructure in order to dry this mash down and then package it," said Hess.

"It would have to go into a landfill," said Simpson.

The FDA said in a statement the rules stem from a new, broad modernization of the food safety system. The statement reads in part, "This proposed regulation would help prevent food borne illness in both animals and people."

The Beer Institute said the regulation is unnecessary, saying there has never been a single reported negative incident with spent grain.

The Beer Institute indicated this is about protecting a centuries-old and environmentally-conscious practice of brewers marketing their brewers’ grain to local animal producers. The institute indicates it's been working for more than a year with members of Congress, regulators and allied organizations from dairy farmers to agriculture scientists in order to present a strong economic and scientific argument proving that it is completely unnecessary for these added regulations.

The institute estimates it may cost a single brewery more than $13 million in one-time and reoccurring costs.

The Colorado-based Brewers Association issued a statement last week calling the proposal an "unwarranted burden for all brewers."

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