CHICO, Calif. — If proposed new federal food safety rules are enacted, a local brewery’s close relationship with the California State University-Chico farm could be disrupted.
The Sierra Nevada Brewing Co. sends its “spent grains” left over after the brewing process to the university to feed cattle, including the brewery’s own herd, as well as to other area dairies and ranches.
However, Sierra Nevada and other breweries have raised concerns about a provision in the new Food Safety Modernization Act that would put the grains under the same handling and reporting requirements as other animal feed, even though the grains have been steeped in 170-degree water.
“If it were to be enacted it would create some new challenges we’d have to overcome in terms of reporting, and possibly some infrastructure to properly store the grain,” Sierra Nevada spokesman Ryan Arnold said. “It would be a little more detrimental in terms of cost.”
Arnold insists the brewery would make the necessary adjustments. But other brewers have said the rule would prompt them to discard millions of tons of spent grains, which include leftover barley and wheat and are popular with ranchers as an affordable feed source.
For Chico State assistant animal science professor Kasey DeAtley, the proposal from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration smacks of another “typical unnecessary regulation,” she said.
“I’m not even sure the FDA knows what they’re hunting for,” she said. “It’s hitting at a horrible time because of the drought. (Ranchers would) have to find a different feed supplement.”
The university and Sierra Nevada were among those that sent comments on the rule, which the FDA has said is part of a new, broad modernization of the food safety system that would prevent foodborne illness in both animals and people, according to The Associated Press.
Major beer and cattle industry groups also submitted remarks by the April 7 deadline. The National Cattlemen’s Beef Association asserts there is “no scientific evidence that warrants further processing” of grains “in terms of animal health.”
“We request the agency to re-evaluate the burdensome requirements on the use of co-products that are produced as a secondary item by industries outside of feed manufacturers,” NCBA president Bob McCan told the FDA in a March 31 letter.
In California, where ranchers have been scrambling for feed sources amid a drought that has left many rangelands barren, many obtain spent grains from breweries to supplement their feed.
“It’s beneficial for brewers, who get some revenue while easily disposing of what would otherwise constitute a waste product for them, and for the rancher, who gets a (usually heavily discounted) source of feed for their cattle,” California Cattlemen’s Association government relations director Kirk Wilbur said in an email.
The cattle groups note the FDA’s proposed regulation is much broader than just spent grains from breweries and could cover other industries’ byproducts that are suitable as cattle feed.
The ranchers and brewers have found allies in members of Congress, including Oregon’s Rep. Greg Walden, who has already met with FDA officials to discuss the 2010 food safety law’s impact on farmers.
Walden asserted in a letter to FDA Commissioner Margaret Hamburg that the spent-grain requirements “could be a disaster for jobs and tourism in southern, central and eastern Oregon,” where brewers have contacted him with their concerns.
“It looks like a solution in search of a problem,” Walden press secretary Andrew Malcolm told the Capital Press. “Everyone wants to make sure food is safe, but we want to make sure there’s not a one-size-fits-all approach that puts brewers or ranchers or farmers out of business.”
With more than a dozen breweries in the central part of the state alone, Oregon beer industries employ 6,400 full- and part-time employees — an increase of 900 jobs from 2011, according to Walden, who helped found the U.S. House of Representatives’ Small Brewers Caucus in 2007.
Similar complaints have been made by more than a dozen U.S. senators, including Sen. Mark Udall, D-Colo., who said his state is known as the “Napa Valley of Beer” because of its brewing industry and culture. He told Hamburg in a letter that breweries already operate in a highly regulated environment that demands sterile practices and inputs such as water and grains.
For Hamburg’s part, she said in a recent House appropriations hearing she thinks “there is a reasonable solution that can be found” with regard to spent grains, Politico reported.
Malcolm said Walden is hopeful that the FDA will modify its spent grain rule, as it has with a proposed water quality standard that farmers growing onions under irrigation said they couldn’t meet.
The same hopes are shared at the Sierra Nevada Brewing Co., which already makes sure it has “high-quality, safe malted barley to begin with,” Arnold said. The malted barley goes through a process called mashing, where it is pasteurized in hot water. When it is separated from the liquid, the grain is safe for livestock as well as human consumption, Arnold said.
“In essence we’re contributing our voice to this larger voice... that we should be excluded from this particular rule,” he said.
FDA proposed animal feed rule:
Rep. Greg Walden:
Sierra Nevada Brewing Co.: