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New spent grains rule worries brewers


The FDA has proposed to regulate used brewery grains, which are often given or sold to farmers for livestock feed

by: JASON CHANEY - Solstice Brewing Company co-owner Joe Barker displays some of the grains he uses to brew beer.

Solstice Brewing Company typically uses between 300 and 500 pounds of grain per batch of beer it brews.

The local brewpub brews anywhere from four to six batches a month, bringing the total to as high as 3,000 pounds – and that’s just the dry weight.

By the time the grains are run through the brewing process, where they are steeped in water so that the starches are converted to fermentable sugars, then rinsed, they double in weight.

Solstice co-owner Joe Barker has so far been able to give away those “spent grains” to some local farmers who use the old brewing materials to feed their livestock.

“We have a couple of sources that we can give it to,” Barker said. “Most of them, it is either cattle feed or sheep feed.”

Now, Barker and other craft brewers who dispose of their spent grains the same way could face new restrictions on the practice that could, at best, make the practice more difficult, or at worst, put an end to it.

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has issued a proposed rule that would regulate spent grains. While Barker is not yet clear about the details of the rule, he is concerned that it will create more work and expense for his business.

“It just depends on how strict they want to get,” he said. “If there are going to be fines, taxes, those sorts of things, we already deal with a ton of that stuff. I deal with Oregon Liquor Control Commission, in some part the Department of Agriculture, and the Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau. For us to deal with another agency is just a pain.”

He isn’t the only brewery owner who feels this way. Deschutes Brewery CEO Gary Fish has voiced his concerns and has contends that there is no reason to add new regulations.

“The relationship between farmer and brewer has existed for millennia,” he said. “I am not aware of a single incident in that time of food borne illness for either animal or human. This ruling could do severe harm to both brewers and farmers as well as fill our landfills with what would otherwise be productive animal feed.”

Barker expressed similar viewpoints, adding that he has never heard of any problems stemming from using spent grains for animal feed. He went on to stress that his brewery takes special care to ensure the grains are free of any harmful materials.

“We are very careful about making sure it gets loaded into bins and you are not spilling cleaner on it,” he said. “Food processing is what we are doing.”

The proposed rule has drawn the attention of Rep. Greg Walden (R-Ore.) as well, prompting him to write a letter to the FDA Commissioner Margaret Hamburg.

“The result of this could be a disaster for jobs and tourism in Southern, Central, and Eastern Oregon,” he wrote. “I urge you to reassess this one-size-fits-all proposed rule and work directly with members of the craft brewing and livestock industries so that food safety can be ensured without putting these industries out of business.”