Cows and IPAs: How Beer Brewing and Livestock Go Hand in Hand

While you may not see a dairy cow taking in the sunset with a bottle of craft IPA, cows actually do benefit from beer brewing. That’s because beer brewing produces a lot of spent grain – the grain that is leftover after the brewing process – and brewers around the country have partnerships with farmers to use the spent grain as feed for cows, chicken and other livestock. With spent grain accounting for up to 85 percent of a brewery’s by-product, that’s a practical way to put it to good use.

But recently the FDA proposed a new rule regarding using spent grain as feed that concerned both brewers and farmers. According to The Press Democrat, the regulations “would make breweries meet the same standards as livestock and pet-food manufacturers, requiring sanitary handling procedures and extensive planning, record keeping and reporting to health officials.”

Farmers often provide the spent grain at a discount, making feed much more affordable than the commercial variety, as well as making use of food waste made by the brewing process. But the new proposed regulations and the accompanying processing restrictions would have made it easier for brewers to get rid of the grains by dumping them in a landfill. That means more waste, but also increased feed prices for farmers.

“It would be a tremendous hit on our production,” he said. “We rely on the grain … It is certainly one of the best feeds for the price,” rancher Peter Bradford told The Press Democrat. Not only that, but the proposed rules could even increase beer prices.

Even government officials were concerned about the proposed rule.“I don’t know everything about beer, but I do know when a federal agency acts like it has had one too many,” Oregon Senator Ron Wyden told KGW.

But can livestock really process spent grain?

Actually, spent grain is even used in food for humans, home brewers often using it in baked goods so as to make full use of all the ingredients used in the brewing process. As for livestock, spent grain has been used as feed for many years, maybe even back to the Neolithic period. Humans have been making beer for a long time after all, and the beer/cow connection is older than eco-friendly home brewers trying to find a use for their waste.

For now the FDA has backed off on its proposed regulations. In a press release, Food and Drug Administration Commissioner Margaret Hamburg said that the FDA had “realized the rule had very negative unintended consequences for both brewers and farmers.” The FDA is therefore planning on revising the rule in a way that won’t prevent the sale of spent grain, good for both beer brewing facilities as well as farmers.

Let’s hope that the new rules keep beer drinkers and cows equally happy.

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Image: James Lee