Brewers Claim Proposed FDA Animal Feed Rules Would Raise Prices For Beer

One might not make the obvious connection between animal feed and beer brewing, but every year the nation’s brewers provide millions of tons of low- or no-cost animal feed to farmers in the form of spent grain left over from the brewing process. But a proposed rule update by the Food and Drug Administration may make it harder for brewers and farmers to continue this relationship.

For every gallon of beer produced, there is about 1 pound of spent grain that remains. While there are numerous other uses for it, this food-grade product is no longer of any use to the brewer.

Under current FDA regulations, brewers and distillers are exempt from the documentation and tracking requirements that other feed providers must follow. Thus, beer makers can easily unload the stuff on livestock farmers always looking for an inexpensive way to keep their animals fed.

The proposed rule change would, among other things, pull the plug on that exemption, compelling brewers to keep extensive records of their spent grain and possibly undertake new drying and packing procedures.

The goal is to reduce the risk of foodborne illnesses entering the food supply through animal feed. If an outbreak were to happen among a farm’s animal population, the records would aid investigators in tracing and identifying possible sources. However, the FDA admits that it doesn’t know of any cases in which spent grain from a brewer has been linked to such contamination.

Some brewers say that the new rules would put too much of a burden, both financial and logistical, on beer makers.

“That would be cost prohibitive,” vice president of brewery operations at Widmer Brothers in Oregon tells the Oregonian. “Most brewers would have to put this material in a landfill.”

If brewers are forced to dry and repackage the spent grain before selling or giving away to farmers, he estimates it could cost up to $13 million per brewery just to update their facilities.

The Beer Institute says that farmers receive about 90% of the nearly 3 million tons of spent grain produced every year. But it’s more a matter of mutual convenience than making money. Brewers are willing to let it go cheaply just to save the expense of having to store or dispose of it, and farmers are more than happy to serve it up to their animals.

“It’s one of those rare things that’s been a win-win for livestock producers and the beverage industry,” explains the director of the Oregon Dairy Farmers Association to the Oregonian.

In the wake of the unexpected backlash to the proposal, the FDA says it will open up the rule to comments again this summer and then revise the proposal accordingly; that may or may not mean continuing the exemption for brewers.