Apr 23, 2014 - 3:15pm

A Proposed FDA Rule Could Deny Cows Feed from Beer Makers. UPDATE: FDA Backs Off.

Senior Editor, Digital Content

UPDATE: Common sense won and the FDA won't be adding a pile of new regulations on the use of spent grains as animal feed. Michael Taylor, FDA’s Deputy Commissioner for Foods and Veterinary Medicine, writes [via The Hill]:

We’ve heard from trade groups and members of Congress, as well as individual breweries raising concerns that FDA might disrupt or even eliminate this practice by making brewers, distillers, and food manufacturers comply not only with human food safety requirements but also additional, redundant animal feed standards that would impose costs without adding value for food or feed safety.

That, of course, would not make common sense, and we’re not going to do it.

In fact, we agree with those in industry and the sustainability community that the recycling of human food by-products to animal feed contributes substantially to the efficiency and sustainability of our food system and is thus a good thing. We have no intention to discourage or disrupt it.


A cow walks into a bar. The bartender refuses to serve him. Insulted, he says, “FINE, I’ll drink in some udder place.”

All bad jokes aside, while not every cow is treated to beer like the Waygu cattle that produces Japan's Kobe beef, some do eat what's left over after an ale or a lager or a stout is made. However, a proposed Food and Drug Administration (FDA) regulation would end the long-time partnership between beer makers and farmers, giving both hangovers. WBAY in Green Bay, Wisconsin reports:

Right now breweries are able to give their spent grains to farmers who use it as an inexpensive form of animal feed.

"We have no use for this, but the cows, reportedly, they come running when it comes," said Dave Oldenburg, brewmaster at Titletown Brewing Company.

It's a win-win situation for now. Breweries can dispose of their spent grains free of cost and farmers love the free feed.

But with the proposals, that could change.The FDA wants to require breweries to dry the grains then package them before giving it to farmers.

This would hit craft brewers hard. Hunter Smith, a Charlotteville, Virginia brewer, told A Pocketful of Liberty’s Neal Dewing, “If we had to dry and package our grain for sale, we would not. It would entail a significant cost [without] significant enough revenue to justify it.” Instead, the spent grain would go into a landfill. “It would put a large burden on our waste infrastructure, add significant cost to the brewer and steal a source of real savings from small farmers across the country,” Smith told Dewing.

National Journal explains that the FDA wrote the regulation in order to “prevent food-borne illnesses in humans and animals” under the FDA Food Safety Modernization Act passed in 2011. The proposed FDA rule would classify breweries and distilleries as animal food producers and require that their facilities

[H]ave written plans that identify hazards, specify the steps that will be put in place to minimize or prevent those hazards, identify monitoring procedures and record monitoring results, and specify what actions would be taken to correct problems that arise.

However, no one can find an example of spent grains poisoning either animals or humans. Anheuser-Busch has been feeding spend grain to cows since 1899, and at Mount Vernon, George Washington gave the spent grain used to make whiskey to his pigs.

“There has never been a single reported negative incidence with spent grain,” said Chris Thorne, Beer Institute Vice President of Communications.

At least the FDA is heeding brewers’ and farmers’ concerns. National Journal reports that the FDA will “release an alternative version of the regulations this summer.”

We’ll then see if the agency deserves a toast.

UPDATE: Rob Bluey at The Founday notes that Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-NY) thinks the FDA has gone overboard; he also talked to an expert at the Heritage Foundation about the proposed regulation:

The Heritage Foundation’s Daren Bakst, a research fellow in agricultural policy, said Schumer has pinpointed a major problem with how the FDA implements the law.

“The Food Safety Modernization Act is supposed to be a law that is risk-based,” Bakst said. “Instead, the FDA is trying to use the law to regulate in areas that have little to no risk. Senator Schumer is expressing proper concern about spent grain from breweries. I would hope that he and other legislators would also take the lead to ensure that FDA regulates only real risks.”

Follow Sean Hackbarth on Twitter at @seanhackbarth and the U.S. Chamber at @uschamber.

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About the Author

Sean Hackbarth
Senior Editor, Digital Content

Sean writes about public policies affecting businesses including energy, health care, and regulations. When not battling those making it harder for free enterprise to succeed, he raves about all things Wisconsin (his home state) and religiously follows the Green Bay Packers.