FDA chief to seek ‘reasonable solution’ in rule dispute with brewers

By Derrick Cain

© Copyright Agri-Pulse Communications, Inc.



WASHINGTON, April 2, 2014 - FDA Commissioner Margaret Hamburg told Congress last week that she'll seek a “reasonable solution” to a dispute between her agency and the brewing industry over how to handle the protein-rich spent grains that result from the beer-making process.

For centuries, alcohol producers have marketed, or sometimes given away, the so-called brewers' grain to farmers to be used as cattle and pig feed. The FDA, however has proposed a new rule which could result in more regulations for the grain, regulations that the Beer Institute says are unnecessary and which could add more than $13 million to a single brewery's bottom line.

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”This rule has gotten absurd,” Congresswoman Chellie Pingree, D.-Maine, told Hamburg at a hearing of the House Agriculture Appropriations Subcommittee, which sets the budget for the FDA. “I'm not really sure how we can say these grains are safe enough for human consumption, but then on the other side they are not safe enough to feed to a cow. This is very hard to explain to my dairy farmers," said Pingree, who is a member of the panel.

The brewing industry is seeking an exemption from the proposed rule, which deals with preventative controls in animal feed production. It would require that feed facilities have 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.

Chris Thorne, vice president of communications for the Beer Institute, the national trade association for the brewing industry, said the rule, if applied to alcohol producers, would require additional record-keeping and disrupt the brewing process, adding costs all the way along the line in a misguided attempt to protect animal and human health.

What's more, he said, the rule is unnecessary when applied to brewers. “There has never been a single reported negative incidence with spent grain,” he said. “The grain we use already meets human consumption standards. These are just two industries, the brewers and the farmers, helping each other out.”

The Beer Institute and the American Malting Barley Association filed comments last week in hopes of preventing further regulation, as did the National Milk Producers Federation. Mary Jane Saunders, general counsel for the Beer Institute, said a final rule is expected in August 2015.

The National Turkey Federation (NTF) also criticized the proposed rule, in comments to FDA. NTF argued that a feed mill's exclusive supply arrangement to feed the turkeys of common ownership provides an economic incentive greater than any regulation to produce the safest, highest quality feed.  NTF said the economic penalty for failing to produce feed of the highest quality and safety is “far greater than any regulatory penalty FDA could devise.” The comment period closed Monday.

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