FDA backs down from brewery regs

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is backing down from a controversial rule that critics said could have raised the price of beer after coming under pressure from members of Congress.

The FDA's chief food safety inspector, Michael Taylor, said this week the agency has "no intention" of preventing breweries from giving spent beer grains to farmers for cattle feed.

"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 wrote in a blog posted on the agency's website Thursday.

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"That, of course, would not make common sense, and we're not going to do it," added Taylor, the FDA's deputy commissioner for foods and veterinary medicine.

The FDA's proposed rule is intended to strengthen the safety of animal food. Under the rule, breweries would have to dry, package and inspect all the spent grain that is left over from beer production before it is given to cattle. 

Many breweries give the scraps from grains used to make beer to farmers so they can feed their cattle. But the new rules would raise the cost of donating their leftovers.

Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) suggested this would discourage breweries from donating their spent grains to farmers. 

"The brewing industry estimates that compliance with the proposed rule could cost over $50 million a year and could be a significant burden on small brewers who produce fewer than 1,000 barrels of beer annually," Schumer wrote in a letter to FDA Commissioner Margaret Hamburg.

More than a dozen Democrats and Republicans in the House also wrote to the FDA to complain about the rule, for which the comment period closed on March 31. 

The lawmakers said the rule would cut into breweries' profits and waste grain.

Other critics speculated this would have led to breweries raising the price of their beer.

The FDA has been reviewing the comments from members of Congress, as well as brewers and farmers, as it considers how to move forward with the rule. 

While the FDA is not withdrawing the rule entirely, Taylor indicated the agency plans to water down a revised version of the rule expected to be published this summer, in an effort to address these concerns. He said he could understand why there were "misperceptions" about the rule because of how it was originally written.

"In fact, we agree with those in industry and the sustainability community that 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," Taylor wrote. "We have no intention to discourage or disrupt it."

"We also believe the potential for any animal safety hazard to result from this practice is minimal, provided the food manufacturer takes common sense steps to minimize the possibility of glass, motor oil or other similar hazards being inadvertently introduced, such as if scraps for animal feed were held in the same dumpster used for floor sweepings and industrial waste," he added.