Bob Kraft: FDA impacts our beef and beer
Thursday, May 01, 2014 11:07 AM
CARMEL – As Americans we have morphed our right to free speech into a national inclination to grumble about our government and the ineptitude of bureaucrats who are charged with regulating industries that they know nothing about. Rarely do we agree, at least out loud, with any government action that affects us directly.
But that is exactly what consumers should be doing in the wake of a recent Food and Drug Administration decision to change a proposed rule that addressed the packaging, processing and handling requirements for any human food by-products consumed by animals. Significantly, the proposed rule would have placed severe restrictions on the use of leftover grain by brewers and distillers as animal feed.
The practice of feeding spent brewers grain to livestock dates back hundreds of years, perhaps to the invention of beer itself. Beer manufacturers ranging from the largest national breweries to smallest craft breweries, as well as distillers, all have to deal with the disposal of spent grain. The spent grain retains significant nutritional value, which makes a partnership between the alcohol producer and the dairy or livestock farmer a natural. In some cases, the farmer pays for the spent grain, in some cases the brewer is happy to get rid of it and provides it at little or no cost. In either case, the mutually beneficial relationship reduces the cost of your steak and your ale as well as the cream in your coffee.
How the FDA got to the point of proposing the rule is an interesting study of an agency reacting to a Congressional response to a large-scale public demand to do something about a particular situation.
In 2007, hundreds of cats and dogs were killed in the United States as a result of pet food imported from China that was contaminated with melamine resin. Melamine appeared to increase the protein value of the pet food but in combination with cyanuric acid, which the pet food also contained, eventually caused kidney failure in the animals to which it was fed. The public outcry about pet food led Congress to give FDA jurisdiction over all animal food, livestock as well as pets, in the Food Safety and Modernization Act of 2011, a comprehensive rewrite of the FDA’s food safety laws, most of which dated back to the 1930s.
Following the bill’s enactment, FDA set about revising and updating its rules and regulations in accordance with the law. Following customary administrative procedures, it published its proposed rule on food for animals in October, 2013.
The proposed rule drew immediate fire from the brewing industry, livestock producers, and the sustainability community which was concerned about the impact spent grain would have on landfills. The comment period on FDA’s proposed animal feed rule ended in late March and to the agency’s credit it only took about three weeks for the announcement that were going back to the drawing board and that a new proposal would be published sometime this summer. The proposed rule as it pertained to spent brewers grain was also criticized by many of those on Capitol Hill who voted for the 2011 Act
In an interesting blog entitled Getting It Right on Spent Grains, Michael R. Taylor, FDA’s Deputy Commissioner for Foods and Veterinary Medicine, explains that “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. That, of course, would not make sense, and we’re not going to do it.”
Commissioner Taylor also goes on to credit food manufacturers with having the common sense “to minimize the possibility of glass, motor oil or similar hazards from being inadvertently introduced” into animal feed. He maintains that it was never the intent of FDA to proscribe the use of spent grain as animal feed but acknowledges that the proposed rule could have been interpreted that way. He pledges that the revised proposal will address these concerns.
This is the way the rulemaking process is supposed to work. FDA deserves credit for listening to valid concerns raised by the industries and individuals that will be affected by the final rule and for indicating a willingness to address those concerns. Commissioner Taylor also deserves credit for being a regulator who recognizes that the individual members of community he regulates may exercise common sense.
And, without question, those of us who regularly consume the products of America’s breweries, distilleries, dairies and feedlots have to applaud and approve any decision that will help control the costs of those dietary essentials.
Kraft recently retired as head of public affairs for the Indiana Farm Bureau.