The FDA is in the midst of another controversy as a round of proposed regulations simultaneously threaten the beer brewing and farming industries. These regulations pertain to the way in which breweries distribute grain byproducts to farmers and the health risks that this process poses. While the FDA’s goal is to make this process a more controlled and safe arrangement, new regulations would have a chain reaction of negative consequences that seem to overshadow the intended benefits.
FDA’s Proposed Regulations
Traditionally, farms and breweries are institutions that coincide with a mutually beneficial relationship. During the brewing process, beer manufacturers discard large amounts of barley and other spent grain. Rather than simply throwing it away, breweries make deals with farmers who can use the otherwise useless grain to feed their livestock. The beer manufacturers get to remove the byproduct for free, and farmers have a cheap solution for feeding their animals.
This relationship may soon be forced to change as the FDA is proposing new regulations that would change the way in which breweries part ways with spent grain. As part of the broader Food Safety Modernization Act, the FDA is considering adding an extra step to this process that would require breweries to package spent grain prior to its distribution to farmers.
While packaging the grain may seem like a minor detail, it will actually present itself as a very large setback for breweries. Not only would they be forced to dry the grain before packaging it, but also the packaging process would require the purchase of new machinery and equipment. It is suggested that these changes could lead to more than $13 million in additional expenses for each brewing facility.
This huge spike in production costs would inevitably raise the price of beer and push facilities to find other ways to dispose of their spent grain. While preowned equipment and alternative grain-disposal methods are options for brewers, they too have downsides, with the most prominent being a lack of access to cheap grain for farmers. It appears that if these regulations are brought to fruition, breweries and farmers alike will suffer.
While the FDA has proposed these new regulations with public safety in mind, the apparent downsides seem to significantly outweigh the questionable advantages. The thought behind these regulations is that making grain safer will in turn make meat sold by farmers safer for human consumption. Despite this rational thinking, there isn’t any research to suggest that grain-packaging regulations will have any significant impact on the quality of meat sold in stores.
Another potential consequence that hasn’t been considered with these regulations is the impact that it would have on the price of other goods. Obviously, beer would become more expensive as production costs rise, but farmers’ expenses will also rise as they lose access to cheap grain. If it becomes more expensive for farmers to feed their animals, then the price of dairy products and meat will spike in turn.
Increased prices for consumers, financial strain for farmers and the environmental impact of grain disposal are just a few of the negative consequences that these regulations would bring about. Unless the FDA comes forward with evidence showing health risks that the current grain tradeoff poses, this seems like one situation in which the FDA is making a large misstep.
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