Beer Prices Could Go Up Under New FDA Rule

The Food and Drug Administration has been tasked with the mission of tightening the country's food safety network, and the federal agency's latest proposal has gotten farmers and beer distributors up in arms about the potential cost incurred for a process that some say is a safety non-issue.

Currently, most U.S. brewers sell a by-product of the brewing process known as "spent grain" to local dairy farms, giving local cows a high-protein, high-fiber feed while recycling, being environmentally friendly and economically conscious.

The relationship between brewers and local farmers are centuries old, but now the relationship is being threatened as the FDA is looking into the practice of how spent grain is distributed to farmers, fed to cattle, and ultimately passed along to consumers. The FDA has proposed a rule that would classify companies that distribute spent grain to farms as "animal feed manufacturers," which would force breweries to dry and package the material before sending it to dairy farms.

Scott Mennen, the vice president of brewery operations at Widmer Brothers Brewery in Portland told The Oregonian that forcing breweries to dry and package the spent grain "would be cost prohibitive," averaging around $13 million per brewery.

"Most brewers would have to put this material in a landfill."

The resulting effect would force brewers to equip their facilities in order to meet the new standards of the FDA — a cost that would slash their profit margins and force brewers to pass the cost to beer drinkers.

"Beer prices would go up for everybody to cover the cost of the equipment and installation," said James Emmerson, executive brewmaster of Full Sail Brewing Co.

Currently, breweries and distillers are exempt from animal feed requirements, however since President Obama signed the Food Safety Modernization Act in 2011, which was signed to thwart food poisoning, breweries' exemption status could be in jeopardy and brewery owners are having a hard time understanding the need to change a century's old arrangement.

Van Havig, masterbrewer of Gigantic Brewing Company, told The Oregonian that "[t]his is regulating a problem that doesn't exist," and the FDA agreed.

"We don't know of any problems," Daniel McChesney, director of surveillance and compliance in the FDA's Center for Veterinary Medicine said. "But we're trying to get to a preventative mode."

Dairy farmers also got wind of the FDA's preventative proposal to stem an issue that has yet to rear its head and added, " [spent grain] is a premium product. I pay virtually nothing. But it's like putting honey on your cereal. It makes the cows want to eat more and we notice it in their production," said Jerome Rosa of the Jerosa Dairy.

Any added feed costs, he said, would add to the cost of his milk.

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