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Maine Brewers, Farmers Worried about Proposed Grain Rule
03/27/2014   Reported By: Tom Porter

Commercial beer makers are seeking a reprieve from a proposed federal rule that they say will cost them a lot of money, and also hurt local farmers. For centuries, brewers have been handing over their spent grain - a byproduct of the beer-making process - to farmers to use as cattle feed. But they're worried that mutually beneficial arrangement could soon come to an end. Tom Porter has more.

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Beer Grains 2

Jason Perkins pours out a beer at the Allagash Brewing Company in Portland.

Last fall, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration proposed a measure that would regulate all animal feed the same way, as part of the Food Safety Modernization Act. It would require that breweries' spent grain - which is wet and heavy - be dried out and packaged before being used as animal feed.

The rule is being closely watched by brewers and farmers here in Maine.

Beer Grains 4(Pumping sounds): This is the sound of spent grain being pumped from a silo at Allagash Brewing Company in Portland into the back of Norm Justice's truck. Justice (left), who runs a small beef farm in Gorham, comes here four or five times a week to collect up to 70 tons of spent grain, most of which he delivers to dairy farms across southern and central Maine.

Those farmers, he says, only pay for the cost of the delivery - the spent grain itself is free. And some of them, Justice says, save tens of thousands of dollars a year on feed.

Norman Justice: "It helps you reduce your purchase feed costs, the higher price feed costs, for grain that comes in from the Midwest, and so it allows us to supplement that."

Tom Porter: "Does it have beer in it?"

Norman Justice: "No, all of the good stuff stays here at the Allagash."

Tom Porter: "The cows aren't getting tipsy."

Norman Justice: "No, they're not." (Laughs)

And for companies such as Allagash, the arrangement is also beneficial. "Spent grain is a natural byproduct of the brewing process, we get what we need out of it, which is basically malt sugars with a base for what creates beer. But what's left is a very nutritious, high in protein by product," says Jason Perkins, master brewer at Allagash Brewing Company.

Perkins says that by-product is being put to good use, and saving money on disposal costs. "Kind of one of these symbiotic relationships where, in other cases, it would be a waste product for us, but with a great farmer like Norm, be can take this and use it as feed," he says."So we're not making any money on it, he's using it as feed, so it works really well."

Tom Porter: "What would it cost you if you had to get rid of it yourself?"

Jason Perkins: "We've haven't done a true study to see what it would cost us, but certainly it would be a substantial cost, in what would most likely be landfill."

And critics of the concerns over food safety raised by the FDA say they just don't add up. Among them is U.S. Rep. Chellie Pingree, who got a chance to question FDA head Margaret Hamburg on Capitol Hill Thursday.

"I'm not really sure how we can say that these grains are good enough to produce something for human consumption, and then on the other side, it's not safe enough to feed a cow," Pingree said. "So it's very hard to explain this to my consituents or my dairy farmers."

Pingree, a Democrat representing Maine's 1st Congressional District - was addressing Hamburg as a member of the House Agriculture Appropriations Subcommittee, which sets the budget for the FDA.

"Is there any evidence with the FDA that a cow has become sick after eating spent grains?" Pingree asked. "We have so many legitimate concerns for food safety, which everyone is working very hard on. Why are we focusing on this particular rule?"

Hamburg's response suggests such concerns are not falling on deaf ears at the FDA. "I think it's one of those examples of something where there is a reasonable solution that can be found," Hamburg responded.

Hamburg also told members of the sub-committee that the FDA would reopen the comment period, giving brewers, farmers and their supporters more time to try and come up with a workable solution.

View the FDA's proposed rule on animal feed.


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