Craft brewers await FDA decision on regulations

GREAT VIEW: Abita Brewery in Louisiana and other craft breweries are hoping to win a battle this summer with the Food and Drug Administration over the disposal of spent grains.

By Steve Wilson | Mississippi Watchdog

Craft brewers in Mississippi and Louisiana might have averted a serious blow to their business.

The Food and Drug Administration is reviewing proposed rules governing the handling of spent grains under the Food Safety Modernization Act adopted in 2011. The rules were designed to protect the food supply for animals, but would’ve largely ended the centuries-old practice of brewers donating spent grains from the brewing process to farmers for animal feed.

Now, under pressure from brewers and farmers, the FDA will take into account concerns in the regulations expected to come out this summer. U.S. Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, even got into the act, who, along with her junior colleague U.S. Sen. Angus King. wrote a letter to the FDA pleading with officials to reconsider.

The FDA said in a statement it knew there were “concerns about the impact of this proposed rule on the brewing community” and is ”already reviewing the extensive input received from brewers and others.”

The regulations, as originally proposed, would’ve forced all breweries — which mostly donated their protein-packed and nutrient-rich spent grains to farmers for free — to dry, test and package the spent grain without it being touched by human hands. That would’ve forced them to buy new, costly equipment and forced most of the smaller breweries to instead dump spent grains in landfills.

The originally proposed regulations would’ve put an incredible burden on a Mississippi craft brewing, an industry that’s in its infancy. It was launched by the passage of a 2012 lawthat allowed the sale and manufacture of high-gravity beer (up to 8 percent alcohol by weight, up from the original limit of 5 percent).

Lucas Simmons, the brewmaster and co-founder of Mississippi’s Lucky Town Brewery, said it would be a terrible waste to toss the grains into the dumpster.

LUCKY: Mississippi microbrewery Lucky Town Brewing would’ve been adversely affected by proposed FDA regulations governing the handling of spent grains from the brewing process.

“This obviously requires some expensive equipment to do, which is not cost-effective to smaller breweries,” Simmons said. “So at this point, most microbreweries will just pay to dump the grain into landfills, which is not good for anyone.”

Across the state line in Louisiana, the southeast’s largest craft brewery, Abita, also would’ve been affected by the proposed rules. Abita — based on the north shore of Lake Ponchatrain in Abita Springs since 1994 — donates all of its spent grains to area farmers.

Even an operation that produces 151,000 barrels of beer each year said it can’t afford to upgrade its equipment to continue donating to farmers.

“We know that this regulation didn’t come from a malicious place at all,” said Jaime Jurado, director of brewing operations at Abita. “It was designed to protect animals and I think that’s something we can all support. But this is something that would’ve really affected the little guys, who really aren’t equipped to deal with it. Instead of throwing away these grains in the dumpster, we’re putting them to good use. It’s mutually beneficial to us and the farmers. It’s a win-win.”

Contact Steve Wilson at swilson@watchdog.org

Rob Port is the editor of SayAnythingBlog.com, a columnist for the Forum News Service, and host of the Plain Talk Podcast which you can subscribe to by clicking here.

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