Under a proposed federal rule, ethanol producers, breweries and others that distribute spent grains for animal feed would be subject to enhanced food safety requirements under the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, a change that a number of industry experts say would do nothing but add unnecessary paperwork and expenses to their respective processes.
The Food Safety Modernization Act of 2011 calls on the FDA to come up with food safety standards for animal feed, and one proposed rule would require facilities that distribute animal feed to establish food safety plans, similar to those of facilities that process human food.
The FDA’s comment period on the rule ends on Feb. 26, and is expected to draw attention in places like Colorado, where there’s about 1 million cattle on feed, and distillers grains and brewers grains have become fairly big business, especially between the ethanol plants and livestock feeders.
Livestock feeders often add spent grains from ethanol producers to their overall grain rations to fortify protein content. According to Extension specialists, distillers grains from ethanol can be added to corn-based rations for finishing cattle at levels ranging from 10 to 40 percent of the total dry matter.
Locals say they don’t want the distillers grains exchange to become more cumbersome with new regulations, or more expensive for the cattle feeders — middlemen facing tight profit margins in a meat industry where cattle prices have skyrocketed but the price of beef hasn’t kept pace.
Eaton resident Steve Gabel, who runs Magnum Feedyards and is a former president of the Colorado Livestock Association, said he’s currently purchasing about $3,350 in distillers grains each day.
He added that he’s used wet distillers grain off and on, though. As ethanol production processes have improved, the corn by-product doesn’t contain the same nutrients it once did. Gabel said the nature of the commodity is also less stable than others, since it contains a great deal of moisture and varies in content.
Gabel said with slim margins, he’ll have to consider other feed options if the changed rules lead to price increases for distillers grains.
He further noted that the distillers grains market likely wouldn’t bear much of a rise in price before demand for the by-product goes down.
“Maybe (ethanol producers will) have to tighten their margin,” he said.
The FDA’s proposed rule would require facilities that handle food for animals to have a written food safety plan, prevention controls for likely hazards, a monitoring process, and procedures to address any contamination. Facilities would also have to keep all paperwork associated with its food safety plan on hand.
But companies that distribute spent grains stress that they already have safety procedures in place, and they don’t want to see more regulations.
“From our perspective, it’s overreach,” said Dan Sanders Jr., vice president for Front Range Energy in Windsor.
Sanders said Front Range Energy sells about 400,000 tons of the byproduct every year, and his is a relatively small ethanol plant.
He said the ethanol production process inherently eliminates contaminants in the corn, and the company has processes in place to ensure that spent grain is safe for animal consumption.
Sanders said he believes the new rules would add to his operation’s costs, however, he doesn’t anticipate them pricing Front Range Energy out of its distillers grains business with the livestock industry.
He said if it did, though, the company might have to look at investing into new technologies that allow its spent grains to be reused in the energy-production process. In regard to brewers grains, MillerCoors spokesman Jonathan Stern said the company has been selling its spent grains to livestock feeders for more than 50 years. Stern said in an emailed response that the company is seeking an exemption under the proposed rule, while he declined to comment specifically on how the rule would impact MillerCoors.
Like MillerCoors, Front Range already has every reason to ensure the safety of its grains, Sanders said, and the company hasn’t received any complaints about grain making any animals sick in its eight years of business.
“We have that incentive to do our own checks and testing on our own without the government getting involved,” Sanders said.
Sanders said the Front Range legislative researchers are looking into the FDA’s proposed rule, and he expects the company will make a comment to the FDA.
Many others in the region, too, noted that they’ll be providing their two cents in the upcoming days.
While small breweries may not have the same requirements as their larger counterparts, locals in the industry who give away their spent grains say any additional regulations would likely send them looking for other ways to dispose of their brewers grains.
Randy Waddle, owner of Broken Plow Brewery in Greeley, said he’ll likely just compost his spent grains if he’s required to have a food safety plan under the proposed rule. Jeff Crabtree, who owns Crabtree Brewing Company, also in Greeley, said if the process becomes more burdensome, he’ll likely stop distributing grains for animals.
“I understand that they want to protect the feed line to ensure the products that are intended for human consumption, but give me a break,” Crabtree said. “There’s got to be an easier way to go about it.”
Kyle Carbaugh, owner of Wiley Roots Brewing Company in Greeley, said he’s waiting until after the comment period closes to see exactly what the rule would mean for breweries like his. He said at this point, it looks like the rule is asking for a lot of added record keeping, which he said he’s used to as a brewer.
“The devil’s in the details of how they really expect us to implement this,” Carbaugh said.