Spent grains

The Food and Drug Administration is in the business of ensuring that the nation’s food supply is safe. That the agency concerns itself with such things as what we feed to the plants and animals we eventually eat is a good thing. In doing so, the FDA is charged with setting regulations that keep all aspects of the food system safe, and for that, Americans are healthier than they otherwise might be. However, there are times when those regulations may overstep or be altogether unnecessary. A rule that would disrupt the flow of brewers’ spent grains to ranchers’ hungry herds is one such example.

For years in Southwest Colorado – and centuries beyond this region – the grains used in the brewing process have had a second life as rich nourishment for livestock. This symbiosis solves two problems: disposing of, at no cost to the brewer, the plentiful spent grains produced when beer is made, and feeding hungry cattle or other livestock an excellent source of protein at virtually no cost to the rancher. Everyone wins.

A proposed new FDA rule would change that by categorizing the spent grains as animal feed, and the brewers who produce the grain as commercial animal feed manufacturers. Doing so would subject brewers to a litany of costly requirements that effectively would stop the flow of spent grains to hungry livestock.

Were there a situation wherein the spent grains had caused illness in any animal or human, perhaps there would be a need for such a change. There is not. But just to be sure, the FDA can take the advice of those who have written to oppose the rule and conduct a risk assessment before constructing such unnecessarily high hurdles that are not needed in this instance.

The rule change would have a significant impact on brewers and ranchers in Southwest Colorado who now happily embody the “one’s trash-another’s treasure” adage. Thousands of pounds of grains would become a disposal problem for brewers, while feeding hungry animals would become cost-prohibitive for small-scale ranchers. It is a bad deal that does not need doing.

The FDA has taken public comment on the rule and is planning to revise it by this summer. That revision should remove spent grains from the list of animal feed regulated according to such costly, stringent guidelines. Brewers are not commercial animal feed manufacturers and should not be treated as such under the FDA’s rules. Instead, a healthy and mutually beneficial relationship that long has been established between brewers and agriculturalists here and across the country should be encouraged.

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