Two-dozen brewers, farmers and ranchers joined with U.S. Sen. Ron Wyden Thursday to lambast a Food and Drug Administration proposal that could effectively end the practice of sending spent grain directly to nearby feeding troughs.
By the end of the day, it appeared the federal agency was listening.
Wyden said the craft beer industry's alliance with farmers and ranchers would be at risk if the FDA pushed ahead with a rule requiring brewers to dry, package and label spent grains before releasing them for agricultural use.
He said the FDA's proposal would be costly, onerous and defies common sense.
"I don't know everything about beer, but I do know when a federal agency has had one too many, and that is certainly the case here," Wyden said. "We want them to abandon the proposal and to get out and talk to people directly affected."
Even as the local meeting unfolded at Caldera Brewery & Restaurant, Michael R. Taylor, FDA's deputy commissioner for foods and veterinary medicine was banging out a missive to reassure brewers and husbandmen they weren't being targeted.
"We've heard from trade groups and members of Congress, as well as individual breweries raising concerns that FDA might disrupt or even eliminate this practice by making brewers, distillers, and food manufacturers comply not only with human food safety requirements but also additional, redundant animal feed standards that would impose costs without adding value for food or feed safety," Taylor posted on a blog site Thursday. "That, of course, would not make common sense, and we're not going to do it."
For Rod Kucera, a Klamath Falls restaurant owner and brewer who operates a small cattle and hay operation south of town, the rule would be a double-whammy. He would not only have to figure out what to do with the spent grain that he now feeds his own animals, but also buy more feed to offset the loss of the grain.
"The weird thing is that I only have to take the grain 75 yards downhill to where I feed the animals," said Kucera, who hauls spent grain to his animals in a wheelbarrow every morning. "For us it's a disaster if we run out of spent grain, because then we have to buy feed and we're just not used to it."
The grain for brewing is more expensive than feed, but gets double the use.
"When you mash, you're extracting, sugars, colors and flavor," Kucera said. "When you're done, 92 percent of nutrients are still in there and it's protein rich. It's still sweet because of the residual sugar from the malting process."
Standing Stone Brewing Co. owner Alex Amarotico said the proposal undercuts his company's sustainability practices
"Our goal is for achieving zero net energy usage, and this would set that whole thing back another step, by making us throw the grain away, and cost another $2,500 annually," Amarotico said.
For many years, Amarotico said, it was hard to find an agricultural user, but for the past three years Standing Stone has fed it to its own herd outside of town.
The sustainability concerns, the FDA's Taylor wrote, are shared.
"We agree with those in industry and the sustainability community that the recycling of human food by-products to animal feed contributes substantially to the efficiency and sustainability of our food system and is thus a good thing. We have no intention to discourage or disrupt it."
Ultimately, Taylor wrote, the rules will be clarified this summer.
The Oregon Brewers Guild estimates that it would cost Oregon beer makers $8.4 million a year to compost the spent grain where applicable or $18.2 million in landfill charges.
Hogs Creek Farm operator Jeff Day, who plans to expand to a 28-acre spread in Sams Valley, said the proposal would add to his costs.
He said spent grain from Opposition Brewing Co. and Bricktown Brewery in Medford supply about 30 percent of his grain needs.
"Spent grain allows me to keep feed costs as low as possible, which allows me to keep retail costs as low as possible," Day said. "If I have to raise less animals, then I feed fewer people."
Reach Mail Tribune reporter Greg Stiles at 541-776-4463 or email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @GregMTBusiness, friend him on Facebook and read his blog at www.mailtribune.com/Economic Edge.