A centuries-old beer-brewing practice is being threatened by the Food and Drug Administration, and the result could be higher beer costs.
It is common practice among breweries across the country to share the byproduct of the beer-making process, known as spent grain, with local dairy farms, giving cattle a high-protein, high-fiber meal, The Oregonian
In an effort to make food safer, the FDA is proposing restrictions that would cause beer and distilled alcohol prices to increase.
The federal agency is considering a rule that would require breweries to dry and package the beer-brewing byproduct by classifying breweries as animal feed manufacturers. Under current rules, breweries are exempt from animal feed requirements.
"Beer prices would go up for everybody to cover the cost of the equipment and installation," said James Emmerson, the executive brew master of Full Sail Brewing Co. in Portland, Ore.
The proposed change is part of the Food Safety Modernization Act, which was signed by President Barack Obama in 2011, partially to prevent food poisoning.
However, brewers say that spent grain is not part of the problem. During the brewing process, the malted barley and liquid is heated to 170 degrees Fahrenheit, which is high enough to kill any harmful bacteria.
"This is regulating a problem that doesn't exist," said Van Havig, master brewer of Gigantic Brewing Co. of Portland. "Did anyone bother to find out if there's been a problem?"
Even the FDA admits that it doesn't know of any reported problems.
"But we're trying to get to a preventative mode," said Daniel McChesney of the FDA's Center for Veterinary Medicine.
The new rules would also require that the spent grain be stored and shipped in sanitized containers with extensive record keeping to keep track of different batches, should problems arise.
It would also likely affect the dairy industry, as well, which currently gets the spent grain either for free or at a nominal price.
Several lawmakers from both parties have opposed the regulation changes.
Democratic Sen. Ron Wyden of Oregon and Republican Sen. Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, co-chairs of the Senate craft brewers caucus, sent a letter to the FDA. Republican Rep. Greg Walden of Oregon has sent his own letter, and Democratic Rep. Peter DeFazio, co-chair of the House craft brewers caucus, is in the process of gathering signatures in the House.
"This is the kind of stuff that makes government look bad," DeFazio told The Oregonian.
"It would mark a huge setback . . . adding tons of waste to our landfills."
The strong reaction to the move has lead McChesney to reconsider the proposal. It will be finalized by August 2015.
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