FDA spent grain proposal threatens Central Oregon symbiosis

Brewers, ranchers question need to regulate brewing byproduct as animal feed

By Andrew Clevenger / The Bulletin / @andclev

Published Apr 4, 2014 at 12:01AM

WASHINGTON — The symbiotic relationship between local brewers and ranchers, who use spent grain from the brewing process to feed cattle that can end up on the menu at local pubs, is at risk under a new rule proposed by the Food and Drug Administration.

In October, the FDA announced potential changes under the Food Safety Modernization Act that would require heightened sanitation requirements for the storage and transportation of animal food.

Under the proposal, local breweries and ranchers would have to invest in upgrades related to how they handle the grain — or abandon the practice altogether.

“Breweries all over the country do this,” said Garrett Wales, a partner at Bend-based 10 Barrel Brewing Co. and president of the Central Oregon Brewers Guild, of the practice of using spent grain to feed livestock. “Most of ours goes to cattle on farms in Central Oregon. That’s what we’ve always done.”

Spent grain tastes like Grape-Nuts cereal and is fit for human and livestock consumption, he said Thursday.

“Essentially it’s hydrated barley; it’s malted grain,” he said.

10 Barrel generates just shy of 5 million pounds of spent grain each year and sells it for around $30 or $40 per ton, he said. That comes out to 80 pounds of grain for each barrel of beer produced. A bigger brewery such as Deschutes Brewing Co., which brews 300,000 barrels a year, will produce almost 25 million pounds of grain, he said.

“And that’s got to go somewhere,” Wales said. “We’re able to provide a very affordable feed for local ranchers.”

Rep. Greg Walden, R-Hood River, voiced the concerns of local brewers and ranchers in a letter Thursday to FDA Commissioner Margaret A. Hamburg. He urged her to reconsider the one-size-fits-all approach to classifying spent grain as animal food.

The common practice of using spent grain to feed cattle has fostered many positive relationships between brewers and the cattle industry, he wrote.

“With much of the West facing drought condition and tightening feed supplies, these relationships provide an additional feed source for some ranchers,” the letter states. “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.”

In an email, FDA spokeswoman Juli Putnam said the FDA is working to develop regulations that “are responsive to the concerns expressed, practical for businesses, and that also help ensure that food for animals is safe” and won’t cause injuries to animals or humans. The FDA is already reviewing extensive input from brewers and others, she said.

“We know there are concerns about the impact of this proposed rule on the brewing community, and we further understand that brewers who are small businesses also have questions about how the proposed rule might affect them,” she said. “We recognize this is an area that should be addressed and will reach out to those concerned.”

Rancher Bob Borlen said the 200 head of cattle at Borlen Cattle Co. in Deschutes County eat 50 wet tons of spent grain each week. In turn, Borlen provides beef to some of the local breweries.

If the grain doesn’t go to local cattle, the breweries will have to pay to take it to local landfills, he said.

“It certainly wouldn’t be as beneficial to the environment, because there will be more corn fed to (cattle), and more transportation costs,” he said. “We’re recycling right here in Central Oregon.”

Borlen grew up on a dairy farm in Wisconsin, and local farmers fed spent grain to their cattle in the 1940s, he said.

Borlen said he doesn’t understand the rationale behind the FDA’s proposed rule.

“We’ve been doing this for over 20 years (in Central Oregon). We’ve never had any health problems with any cattle or humans. They see a problem that doesn’t exist,” he said.

— Reporter: 202-662-7456, aclevenger@bendbulletin.com