New FDA Grain Rule Could Raise The Price Of Beer, And Ruin A Happy Trade Union Between Farmers & Breweries

Beer lovers, beer masters and farmers alike would agree that, yes, beer is proof that God loves us and wants us to be happy. Particularly since numerous breweries dispose of spent grain — the leftovers from the beer-making process — by giving the grain to farmers for livestock feed. But a new FDA regulation threatens this long-standing happy trade union: The regulation requires breweries to either spend a lot to dry and package grain, or dispose of it, and farmers would have to pay up for more food for livestock.

It's a lose-lose situation for brewers and farmers, and they're up in arms over the whole thing. The regulation could also see beer and milk prices spike.

For years, breweries have killed three birds with one stone: Once their grain is spent after the beer making process, they give it to farmers. This saves breweries the costly task of disposing of the grain, and helps the environment by keeping a reusable resource out of landfills. Some farmers say they like the wet grain from the breweries because it keeps the livestock hydrated, and animals seem to eat more when the grain is wet.

But this FDA regulation falls under the Food and Safety Modernization Act, signed by President Barack Obama in 2011, that aims to keep pet and animal food safe. Here's the rub — this brewery-farmer relationship has been in place for decades, and there haven't been any reported problems with the safety of the grain.

Natalie Cilurzo, president and co-owner of Russian River Brewing Company in California, told the Huffington Post that her brewery doesn't have the room for additional equipment, and spent grain could sit in dumpsters outside the brewery for days before it's picked up by the trash company, attracting wild animals, rodents, and insects.

"To our knowledge, there has never been a case of animals or humans becoming ill or harmed from consuming spent brewing grains or eating products from the animals who consume them," Cilurzo told the Huffington Post. "Most brewers go to great lengths to keep clean facilities, since we essentially producing a food product. This scenario is far more hazardous to humans than feeding spent grains to animals who consume it right away."

The Brewers Association, a non-profit organization that supports independent and small American breweries, issued a statement based on the proposed regulation, asking the FDA "to conduct a risk assessment of the use of spent brewers' grain by farmers prior to imposing expensive new regulations and controls."

Amid growing pressure from breweries and farmers, the FDA has released a statement that the agency is reviewing the proposed regulation and input from brewers, and will propose revisions this summer.

For now, the fate of this longtime agreement between breweries and farmers hangs in the balance. Let's hope the FDA lets this one go for the sake of small farmers and breweries.