Beer makers can still give farmers grain for livestock feed

The federal Food and Drug Administration is shelving a proposed change that threatened to end beer-makers’ ability to give away their soggy, used-up grains to farmers for livestock feed.

The decision formally announced last week leaves intact a long-standing practice that saves micro-brewers the cost of hauling spent grains to landfills and gives farmers a nutritious source of food for their bovines.

“That’s great to hear,” said Shawn Loring of Lazy Boy Brewing in Everett, who didn’t expect any final action until sometime next year. “In the end we would have had to landfill it and that would be very expensive.”

And the guy who picks up spent grains each week from Loring and several other businesses hadn’t gotten wind of the FDA’s decision either until a reporter phoned.

“I’m glad to hear it,” said Forest Hughes, of Granite Falls. “I actually haven’t had any worries the last couple months because I figured if enough people complained about it they’d get it right.”

FDA officials did get an earful from brewers, farmers and politicians after proposing to tweak animal food safety rules in a way that would have required spent grains to be completely dried and packaged before they could be given away or dumped in a landfill.

That would have forced brewers and distillers to buy and install driers capable of handling the large volumes of grain used in the alcohol-making process. Equipment and power costs alone could have forced some out of business.

In April, Michael R. Taylor, the FDA’s deputy commissioner for foods and veterinary medicine, said the agency never intended to target the spent grains and promised the language would be revised. That happened Sept. 19.

“It’s good news for sure,” said Pat Ringe, vice president of brewing operation for Diamond Knot Brewing Co. in Mukilteo which produces as much as 20,000 pounds of spent grains, hops and wheat in a week.

Had the rules changed, it would have driven up the price of beer to pay for the added cost of dealing with byproduct of the brewing process.

Ringe said Wednesday he hadn’t been too worried of late.

“When it first came out there was concern. Knowing it was just preliminary rulemaking, I knew they weren’t coming in with their FDA cops,” he said. “It just seemed rather short-sighted and unnecessary considering the impacts.”

Federal lawmakers across the country also lobbied the FDA not to make the change.

“The rule was trying to address a problem that didn’t really exist.” said U.S. Rep. Suzan DelBene, D-Wash.

She, U.S. Rep. Rick Larsen, D-Wash. and 52 other members of Congress, wrote FDA officials in May to ask them to rethink their position.

“Humans aren’t the only ones who benefit from the great beer coming from the Pacific Northwest,” Larsen said. “I’m pleased the FDA is listening to the brewers and farmers like those in the Pacific Northwest who have figured out a way to get more value out of these spent grains while also decreasing waste.”

Jerry Cornfield: 360-352-8623; jcornfield@heraldnet.com.

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