Booze wins big in food safety fight

Booze wins big in food safety fight
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Purveyors of the nation’s alcoholic beverages have something to toast in the Obama administration’s revised food safety overhaul.

A slate of revamped regulations proposed under the landmark 2011 Food Safety Modernization Act contains language assuring brewers and distillers that they will not be subject to an additional layer of red tape that industry groups had feared.

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The concerns centered on potential new restrictions on spent grain that is produced by the truckload in the brewing and distilling processes and sold as livestock feed — a practice that dates back generations.

Industry groups, who had warned that the added regulations would cost hundreds of millions of dollars annually, say their worries were allayed in the new proposal.

“This is a win for the brewing industry, and win for those farmers that want to have a reliable and local source of spent grains,” said Chris Thorne, spokesman for the Beer Institute.

The clarification is among several changes made in four sweeping new draft rules unveiled Friday that cover everything from standards for farms and factories to animal food and imports.

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) began proposing the regulations in January of last year as part of the administration’s effort to replace a system built to respond to illness outbreaks with one designed to prevent them.

The initiative — the biggest food safety overhaul in 70 years — has been fraught with delays, with the FDA struggling to enact seven rules encompassing the production, storage, handling and transport of foodstuffs.

The FDA first proposed the rules more than a year ago but announced the planned revisions in December, saying its thinking had "evolved" on the potential impact of the regulations.

The Beer Institute was one of numerous trade groups that raised concerns that the initial proposals would add a host of restrictions to brewers by subjecting them to the rules applying products meant for human consumption — as well the separate animal food regulations.

As interpreted by the industry, the regulations would have imposed a host of new sampling and testing requirements, costly construction of new infrastructure at breweries, new cleaning systems for the areas where spent grain is stored and additional audits and verifications to ensure compliance.

The Beer Institute — which represents thousands of breweries including those churning out the Budweiser and Miller brands — predicted the initial draft rules would cost a single large brewery as much as $13 million per year.

Simply scrapping existing arrangements to sell the spent grains was not an option, Thorne said.

The brewing process extracts sugars from the grain, leaving a protein and fiber-rich product ideal for animal feed. Given that a single plant can produce enough spent grain to fill an 18-wheel truck every hour, the ability to sell it as feed to nearby farmers is a tidy and lucrative practice that has been a hallmark of the industry since its inception.

In public comments and meetings with the FDA, the industry made its case that the added regulations would duplicate systems already in place, adding undue burden to the process.

“We demonstrated that there is no need for these regulations,” Thorne said of the added rules for animal food. “We are meeting the standards for human consumption. Adding another layer would slow things down.”

The FDA signaled in April that it had received the message from brewers and distillers, and responded formally in the regulations rolled out Friday.

“The updated proposed rule would clarify that human food processors that create by-products used as animal food and are already complying with FDA human food safety requirements — such as producers of wet spent grains — would not need to comply with the full animal food rule if they are already complying with the human-food rule,” the FDA said in a statement accompanying hundreds of pages of draft language.

In light of sheer magnitude — and length — of the rules, some industry groups, including the Brewers Association representing smaller craft breweries, said they were still examining the changes.

The Distilled Spirits Council issued a statement expressing measured support for the revision.

“Some progress has been made now that FDA is reconsidering its proposed rules on spent grains based on the industry’s concerns that they would impose needless regulatory and economic burdens on distillers without any public health or safety benefit,” the council said.

“We are evaluating FDA’s latest proposal to ensure that all of our concerns have been fully met.”