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The byproduct of all these kegs of St. Lawrence Brewery beer has to go somewhere. Photo: David Sommerstein
The byproduct of all these kegs of St. Lawrence Brewery beer has to go somewhere. Photo: David Sommerstein

Brewers raise a glass to revised spent grains plan

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Beer makers across the country are raising a glass, as the Food and Drug Administration is backing away from a plan to restrict what brewers do with beer's main byproduct.

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Reported by

David Sommerstein
Reporter/ Producer

For centuries, brewers and livestock farmers have lived symbiotically. Making beer results in spent grain, and animals like to eat it.

Mark Gillis of Blue Line Brewery in Saranac Lake gives his spent grain to a farmer in nearby Vermontville. "We just take the grains, throw them out in the back," Gillis says. "She swings by and picks them up like clockwork."

As part of a national effort to modernize food safety rules, the FDA would have required all breweries to have costly plans for managing spent grain. The idea was to protect animals from getting sick from a contaminated batch.

But brewers cried out that there are no cases of that having happened. New York State Brewers Association Director Paul Leone says all that grain would get trashed. "You're talking close to six hundred sixty million pounds of spent grain if we're not able to continue to do the centuries-old practice of repurposing that spent grain by giving it to farmers as feed," Leone says.

Earlier this week, Senator Charles Schumer joined brewers in calling that plan "ridiculous." On Thursday, he said in a press release, the FDA responded. He said FDA commissioner Margaret Hamburg said the agency didn't realize the "negative consequences" and is now committed to rewriting the rule.

Brewer Mark Gillis says he's not surprised Schumer pushed hard to make the change, given New York's attention to its exploding microbrewing industry. "He's been pushing for these breweries and the jobs it creates and the tourism it creates, and trying to make it as easy as possible," says Gillis. "It doesn't surprise me that the legislation got pulled."

Other brewers in the North Country also give their spent grain to farmers, including Davidson Brothers Brew Pub in Glens Falls and St. Lawrence Brewery in Canton.

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