Spent grains are by-products of alcoholic beverage brewing and distilling that are very commonly used as animal feed.
In October 2013, the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) proposed a rule on current good manufacturing practice, hazard analysis, and risk-based preventive controls for food for animals as part of its Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA), and incorporated the brewing by-product under the new legislation.
Since the March 31 close of the comment period on the feed rule, several industry sectors have made public their anger over the regulation on spent grains.
FDA language muddying the waters
Yesterday, Michael Taylor, FDA’s deputy commissioner for foods and veterinary medicine, said the FDA is now aware that the language it used in the proposed rule could lead to the misperception that it was proposing food manufacturers establish separate animal feed safety plans and controls to cover their by-products such as spent grains.
“But it was never our intent to do so,” he added.
He said that the FDA also subscribed to the same view as the various trade groups that additional, redundant animal feed standards would impose costs without adding value for food or feed safety.
“That, of course, would not make common sense, and we’re not going to do it,” said Taylor.
He said the regulator believes the potential for any animal safety hazard to result from this practice is slight, provided the food manufacturer takes common sense steps to minimize the possibility of glass, motor oil or other similar hazards being inadvertently introduced into the scraps or by-products being directed to the animal feed sector.
“In fact, we invited comment on practical ways to address by-products in keeping with their minimal potential risk. We will take the necessary steps to clarify our intent in the rules themselves so there can be no confusion,” said the deputy commissioner for foods at the FDA in a blog on the agency's website.
This summer the FDA plans to issue revised proposals for comment on several key FSMA issues and Taylor said this will include changes consistent with his current comments.
Sustainability of food system
Taylor said the FDA concurred with food, feed and brewing trade bodies on most points:
“In fact, 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.”
Spent brewer and distiller grains are a subset of the broader practice of food manufacturers sending their peels, trimmings, and other edible by-products to farmers or feed manufacturers for animal feed uses rather than to landfills.
One industry estimate is that 70% of food by-product becomes food for animals in the US.
Industry anger over spent grain proposal
The US National Milk Producers Federation (NMPF) had said, in comments sent to the FDA, that the FSMA feed rule would make it harder to use the spent grains as feed.
“The regulation of spent brewers’ grains under the animal feed rule will result in unnecessary increased costs to dairy producers, since brewers’ will pass on increased costs of spent brewers’ grains without any appreciable change in feed safety,” said the trade group, which represents over 32,000 dairy farmers.
The US Beer Institute and the American Malting Barley Association also asked the US regulator to use its authority under the FSMA to exempt the brewing by-product from the new legislation.