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C. Oregon breweries worry about FDA proposal

By John Hendricks
Published On: Apr 02 2014 01:19:46 AM CDT
Updated On: Apr 02 2014 11:21:56 PM CDT

NewsChannel 21's John Hendricks reports on proposed FDA regulations that would affect local breweries and ranchers.

BEND, Ore. -

Proposed regulations by the Food and Drug Administration has brewers across the country and the High Desert frustrated. The government agency wants to regulate what happens with the spent grains from the brewing process.

Many breweries sell the byproduct to cattle ranchers for feed.

The rule change would make brewers meet the same standards as livestock and pet food manufacturers, put in place new sanitary handling procedures, and calls for record keeping of the brewing process.

The FDA says the proposed regulation would help prevent food-borne illness in both animals and people. The proposal calls for grain to be dried and packaged if it leaves the brewery and is used as feed. It also prevents any human contact with the spent grain.

Central Oregon breweries aren't too keen on the idea.

"Honestly, my first thought when I heard this proposed was, 'This can't be right, somebody has made a mistake,'" Deschutes Brewery founder and CEO Gary Fish said Tuesday.

His business sells the spent grains to a cattle farm in Alfalfa. In turn, they buy beef that is used in their restaurant.

"This is a solution looking for a problem," Fish said. "Right now, the problem doesn't exist."

Fish says complying with the regulations would cost hundreds of thousands of dollars. He says other smaller breweries would have no other option but to send the material elsewhere -- the dump, most likely.

"If we are no longer able to provide that product for local livestock feed, then we only have one thing to do with it, and that's take it and dump it into the landfill," Fish said.

Rep. Greg Walden, R-Ore., has written to the FDA to express his concerns about the proposed rule that would have a big impact on the craft brewing and livestock industries in Oregon.  Here's the text:

The Honorable Margaret A. Hamburg, M.D.
Commissioner
U.S. Food and Drug Administration
10903 New Hampshire Avenue
Silver Spring, MD 20993

Dear Commissioner Hamburg,

I am writing to express my concerns over the Food and Drug Administration’s (FDA) proposed rule that would severely impact both the craft brewing and livestock industries in my district.  As you know, the FDA’s recent rule proposes to regulate spent brewers grains as animal food, and brewers as feed manufacturers. The result of this could be a disaster for jobs and tourism in southern, central, and eastern Oregon. 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.

As you probably know, it is common practice in the brewing industry for brewers to utilize spent grain, a byproduct of the brewing process, as a food source for cattle.  This has fostered many positive relationships between brewers and the cattle industry.  With much of the West facing drought condition and tightening feed supplies, these relationships provide an additional feed source for some ranchers. The practice of brewers recycling their spent grain provides cattle producers a steady, reliable, and affordable food supply for their livestock.  In some cases, the rancher then sells back the beef to supply brewery restaurants.  This common sense “win-win” approach is the same spirit that has allowed Oregonians to thrive for generations. 

Central Oregon has become known for its world-class breweries.  This has been a great impact for tourism in Bend and has also been good for the Central Oregon economy.  Currently there are over a dozen breweries in Central Oregon, employing hundreds of people.  The cattle industry in my district also has been around for generations, and Oregon’s ranchers bring over $650 million into Oregon’s economy and provide jobs in rural communities. It is great to see such great synergy between an established industry and a new, growing industry.

However, the fact that the FDA would take such a drastic step that threatens the symbiotic relationship between these two industries is absurd.  To my knowledge, there have not been recorded incidences where spent grains have caused harm to humans or cattle. Further, the fact that breweries already operate under numerous regulations and in a sterile environment raises questions about the need for such steps to be taken.

Again, I ask that you reconsider moving forward with this onerous rule, and work directly with the craft brewing and livestock industries to prevent damage to these businesses as you proceed with your efforts to ensure a safe food supply.  Thank you in advance for your consideration. 

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