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No more brewery leftovers for cattle?

Flickr Commons / Niels Linneberg

Few people connect craft breweries with cattle feed. But passing along the spent grains from the brewing process, like barley and wheat, to livestock ranchers is a common practice. Although now, that relationship could be in jeopardy.

Proposed federal food safety rules, part of the massive Food Safety Modernization Act passed in 2011, could limit brewers who donate or sell their leftover grains to ranchers for livestock feed. And the country’s largest trade group for craft brewers is fighting its implementation.

“The rules would require brewers to either landfill their grain or if they wanted to comply with the new rules they would have to go through very serious procedures and record keeping and dry the grain and pre-package it for the farmers,” said Paul Gatza, director of the Boulder, Colo.-based Brewers Association.

“So this is a solution to a problem that just doesn’t exist, and it’s going to cause a lot of heartache for brewers and farmers if it goes through,” Gatza said.

The rule as it’s written would treat breweries like animal food manufacturers, and that classification comes with a higher level of scrutiny and a whole new slew of regulations. If it’s approved and put in place, many small-time brewers would likely end the practice of partnering with ranchers, Gatza said. Spending the time and manpower to dry and package the spent grains wouldn’t be worth the payoff. That could result in more spent grain in landfills and ranchers looking for other sources of feed.

The Food Safety Modernization Act wasn’t just passed for human food. It delved into animal food products too. There have been cases of salmonella moving from pet food to dog to human. And outbreaks tied to pet treats manufactured in China have killed hundreds of dogs in the U.S.

Many brewers, including New Belgium Brewing in Fort Collins, Colo., say that if the grains are being used to make beer for humans, the leftovers should be good enough for cows.

“It’s already passed the threshold for human consumption and as far as our research shows, there’s been no instances or cases where animal or health issues have arisen from spent grains,” said Bryan Simpson, a New Belgium spokesman.

The rule has drawn the attention of Colorado Democratic Sen. Mark Udall, who’s asking the FDA to complete a risk assessment before imposing the new requirements. The comment period has closed for the proposed rule, and the rule could be issued this year.

As KUNC’s reporter covering the Colorado River Basin, I dig into stories that show how water issues can both unite and divide communities throughout the Western U.S. I produce feature stories for KUNC and a network of public media stations in Colorado, Utah, Wyoming, New Mexico, Arizona, California and Nevada.