Farmers in Maine and across the nation got good news Thursday when federal food regulators indicated they are willing to drop a proposed rule change that would end a tradition that allows breweries to supply farms with spent grain, a byproduct of beer brewing that is used as livestock feed.

Members of Maine’s congressional delegation broke the news in Maine after discovering that the U.S. Food and Drug Administration will revise the rule this summer. The change was noted in a blog posted Thursday on the FDA’s website by Michael R. Taylor, the agency’s deputy commissioner for foods and veterinary medicine.

“The FDA has gotten the message, loud and clear, that this is a perfectly safe practice, and should be allowed to continue,” said U.S. Rep. Chellie Pingree in a news release.

“They have even acknowledged that it just doesn’t make sense to create strict new food safety rules that would end this age-old practice,” said Pingree, a member of the House Agriculture Appropriations Subcommittee.

The proposed rule change was part of the 2011 Food Safety Modernization Act, which gave the FDA sweeping authority to overhaul federal food safety regulations. It came about because of concerns about tainted pet food from China. The rule would have covered all types of foods destined for pets, farm animals and zoos.

Taylor noted in his blog that the FDA received a significant number of objections to the proposed rule change, which would have required brewers to dry and package their mashed brown sludge before giving it or selling it to farmers. Opponents said that step would have been cost-prohibitive.

The proposal ignited opposition including a letter to FDA Commissioner Margaret Hamburg signed by several U.S. senators, including Republican Susan Collins and independent Angus King of Maine.

Taylor said that, after further consideration, the proposed rule would have imposed costs on farms and breweries without adding value for food or feed safety. “That, of course, would not make common sense, and we’re not going to do it,” Taylor wrote.

Collins and King, in their letter to Hamburg dated March 31, said they recognized the importance of food safety but asked the FDA to reconsider its position, given the potential for economic harm.

Many breweries in Maine donate their spent grain to farms, a tradition that saves farmers money on livestock feed.

The practice also saves breweries disposal costs for the spent grain, a mash substance that is created after brewers heat barley and other grains to extract sugars, proteins and nutrients.

“Since at least the Middle Ages, brewers have donated or sold (often for very little money) these spent grains to farmers,” the senators wrote. “A recent study indicates that nearly 90 percent of spent grains produced by craft brewers is used for animal feed. The proposed rule would effectively end this centuries-old practice.”

“Inevitably, limiting a source of free, or nearly free, animal feed will mean additional costs for the farmers,” the senators argued.

Norman Justice, who raises beef cattle on a farm in Gorham, said the proposed rule would have eliminated an inexpensive source of livestock feed and would have forced farmers to pay more for other feed, such as hay or corn.

“It’s a huge issue,” Justice said Thursday night. “And it’s not just Maine that would have been affected. This would have affected farmers across the country. We’ve been doing this since man started brewing beer.”

Dan Kleban, who owns the Maine Beer Co. on Route 1 in Freeport, said his company donates about five tons of spent grain to a farmer in Brunswick each week. He applauded the FDA for listening to farmers, small craft brewers and legislators who opposed the rule change.

“It’s free and it’s nutrient-rich,” Kleban said. “We’d have to landfill the grain if we couldn’t give it to the farmer, and that would increase our costs.”

Sean Sullivan, executive director of the Maine Brewers’ Guild, said, “If that rule were to have gone into effect, it would have been horrible for our industry.”

Dennis Hoey can be contacted at 791-6365 or at:

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