As is the case with most every act of food production, brewing beer and distilling alcohol has a waste component associated with it. After the process, the brewmasters and distillers are left with vast amounts of "wet grain," the muck consisting of old malt and grain remnants after they've been mashed and separated. It's basically unusable, and brewing creates a whole lot of it.
Luckily, there's one group who loves wet grain more than anything: Cows. They can't get enough. Stick some in front of a cow, and it'll chow down until every morsel is licked clean from the trough. It's a perfect production circle: Brewers make beer, create waste, send waste to cows, who eat it and turn it into more useful waste. But if the new Food Safety Modernization Act moves forward, all that wet grain may end up in a landfill instead.
As I've touched on previously, the Food Safety Modernization Act is changing the way the FDA takes care of our country's food. Signed way back in 2011 by President Obama -- with the noble intentions of stopping the spreading of food-borne illnesses -- it was only at the beginning of 2013 when the protocols started becoming implemented. But when enormous, one-size-fits-all government programs are introduced, there's bound to be a few negative side effects.
One of the more frustrating was how the FSMA would hurt small farms' ability to sell their produce at farmers' markets, seeing as sometimes they have a little dirt on them. And now another wrinkle is that brewers/distillers may stop selling/giving their wet grain to farmers because of the new red tape hassle the FDA will now require.
See, until now brewers could just deliver the used wet grain to farmers on their own and whenever they wanted, without any more of a headache then getting someone to load it into the back of the truck. But with the FDA extending their oversight, they want to make sure cows aren't eating improper items, which means forcing brewers and distillers to fill out documentation whenever such a transaction takes place. Which means, well, why don't we just not bring the grain to the farms anymore?
The Brewers Association is concerned that the FDA's proposal might force the 2,000 craft breweries it represents to dry or package up their spent grain -- a resource-intensive process -- instead of allowing farmers to just pick up the wet grains in trucks, as most operations do now.
Now, this is bad news for a number of reasons:
First, instead of sending the wet grain to animals that will actually dispose of it in an environmentally-friendly and useful way, the discards will be sent to the landfill. This is a large amount of material we're talking about here: one gallon of beer ends up discarding roughly one pound of wet grain; a gallon of bourbon spits out about nine pounds of the stuff. Estimates also state that brewers and distillers send 80 percent of their used grain to farmers.
The second problem is the cost. Now, sending grain to farms costs whatever the amount of gas needed to fill up the trucks. But if places start sending their grain to landfills instead, the Brewers Association believes it could cost the brewers an extra $43 million per year in service fees. That's not a cost they're going to eat entirely themselves, but instead pass along to consumers by jacking up the price of their brews.
Finally, and perhaps most importantly, is simply the distressing lack of common sense on display here. This is a practice that's been going on for centuries -- George Washington even did it! -- and it's never been proven to cause sickness. But because it doesn't seem to be the most secure of practices, they want it to end. Between this and previously-mentioned issues regarding the legislation, maybe it's best to put everything on hold and have someone take a fine-tooth comb over the massive document and get input from the industries themselves.
Because while the country's food safety should be a priority, that doesn't mean we should completely disregard common sense.
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