FDA Proposal Threatens to Raise Cost of Beer, Damage Environment

Sometimes, nothing satisfies like a good beer. But if the Food and Drug Administration has its way, we may soon be paying more for the pleasure.

Whether pilsner or hefeweizen, lager or lambic, brown ale or IPA, beer is there for us in good times and in bad. As many of us across the country struggle to cope with the effects of ruinous, burdensome government regulation (or just come to terms with our taxes), our favorite beer stands ready to lend what comfort it can provide.

This makes the latest proposal from the FDA all the more troubling. If adopted, it could cause the price of beer to jump dramatically, and put the squeeze on small brewers and farmers alike.

The crux of the issue is this: a by-product of the brewing process is a large quantity of “spent grain” which is, funny enough, exactly what it sounds like. This leftover grain is often sold or traded to farmers for use as supplemental feed for livestock. The farmers love it. The brewers love it. Cows definitely love it. But according to reports, the FDA is seeking to reclassify companies who distribute this product as “animal feed manufacturers,” a move that would require breweries to invest in expensive drying and packaging equipment in order to sell the grain to farmers. This imperils a mutually beneficial business arrangement.

Hunter Smith, the owner of Champion Brewing Company in Charlottesville, VA [full disclosure: I am deeply enamored of their Tart Berliner Weisse], has such an arrangement with his local farmer.

“If we had to dry and package our grain for sale, we would not. It would entail a significant cost [without] significant enough revenue to justify it,” said Smith.

Those of us who live in the real world know what happens when you place additional costs on production. Companies exist to make money, and so that expense must be made up somehow. If it costs a brewer money to dispose of the spent grain, they will pass on those costs to the farmers, who will then pass the cost on to – you guessed it – us poor slobs at the consumer end of the process. That translates into more expensive beer and milk.

Alternately, brewers could opt out of making use of the by-product altogether. According to Smith, “[the spent grain] would go into a dumpster and into a landfill. Maybe not Anheuser-Busch, but most independent brewers wouldn’t invest in something that doesn’t have a return.”  Whither the environment?

Added Smith, under the current arrangement “animals are being fed and sustained by waste products that we would otherwise have to throw away. It’s a complete-360 transaction that has no issues, and needs no regulation.”

We shouldn’t be surprised. This is the same FDA that seems hellbent on claiming e-cigarettes are as harmful to people as the inhalation of combusted tobacco leaves laced with arsenic. Now we see that their animating principles may not just be anti-scientific, but also startlingly ignorant of the most basic laws of economics. Not that they think this should stop them from sticking their noses in where our suds are concerned. From the first linked article:

We don’t know of any problems,” Daniel McChesney, director of surveillance and compliance in the FDA’s Center for Veterinary Medicine said. “But we’re trying to get to a preventative mode.

It is incumbent upon conservatives, and indeed any human being who has enjoyed the recent advances in American brewing, to oppose this latest instance of FDA tinkering. While the larger corporate entities could absorb this sort of expense, smaller businesses would be forced to lump it or dump it. Does the government really want to get in the way of an American and his beer?  Indeed, there are indications the FDA is not totally comprised of blinkered morons, and revised rules may be issued.

“This is definitely a solution looking for a problem, and pretty severe overreach where there is no issue,” said Smith.

“It would put a large burden on our waste infrastructure, add significant cost to the brewer and steal a source of real savings from small farmers across the country. It honestly baffles me who could have come up with such a proposal.”

If there is any issue that can unite Americans across the yawning political divide, surely this is the one.