THE feed and food industry should find it comforting that the Food & Drug Administration seems to be listening and letting common sense prevail when it comes to how to handle spent grains in its proposed animal feed rule under the Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA).
As of the March 31 close of the comment period for the proposed rule, "Current Good Manufacturing Practice & Hazard Analysis & Risk-Based Preventive Controls for Food for Animals," FDA had received more than 2,000 comments, and about 1,500 of those were from either pet owners or small brewers and farmers who receive spent grains from them.
Spent grains are byproducts of alcoholic beverage brewing and distilling. These spent grains are commonly used as animal feed and are a subset of the much broader practice of food manufacturers sending their peels, trimmings and other edible byproducts to local farmers or feed manufacturers for animal feed uses rather than to landfills. One industry estimate is that 70% of human food byproducts become food for animals.
Michael Taylor, FDA's deputy commissioner for foods and voluntary medicine, said in a recent blog that the agency has heard from trade groups, 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.
It is estimated that almost 90% of brewers dispose of spent grains in the form of animal feed. The brewing industry estimates that compliance with the proposed rule could cost brewers more than $50 million per year and could be a significant burden for small brewers that produce fewer than 1,000 barrels of beer annually.
Taylor emphasized that FDA has no intention of discouraging or disrupting the recycling of human food byproducts to animal feed, which he said increases the efficiency and sustainability of the food system.
"We understand how the language we used in our proposed rule could lead to the misperception that we are proposing to require human food manufacturers to establish separate animal feed safety plans and controls to cover their byproducts, but it was never our intent to do so. In fact, we invited comment on practical ways to address byproducts in keeping with their minimal potential risk," Taylor wrote.
FDA said the current rule exempts very small businesses, which could include local and craft brewers, from the food safety plan requirement, according to a Q&A document on how FSMA would affect brewers and distillers.
FDA plans to propose revised language for this rule later this summer and will include more on the issue of how the requirements would apply to brewers. The agency said it welcomes additional comments.
"Our door at FDA has been wide open to stakeholders at every step of the FSMA process. We have learned a lot through active, two-way dialogue with those who have concerns about what we propose or ideas about how we can achieve our food safety goals in the most practical way. We hope and fully expect that dialogue to continue," Taylor said.