From suds to cuds

You be relieved to know that the Food Safety Modernization Act won't be used, at least not yet, to raise the price of beer and beef. The FDA, in the supposed interest of food safety, had planned to require that breweries dry, process, inspect and package their spent grain, left over after the brewing process, before selling it to farmers as animal feed. This is despite the fact that this use of the product has been going on without known injury for over a century.

Sadly, all that has been issued by that organization so far, in the face of vociferous outcry from both brewers and farmers, who have used the brewer's grains as a comparatively inexpensive feed source in reaction to recent high corn prices, is a "clarification." The final rule is still pending and is expected to be released later this year. There are many who fear a flip-flop on the issue and not the kind that makes for happy summer feet.

Besides the potential to remove a significant revenue side stream from brewers and an inexpensive feed from farmers, a serious waste problem would be created, unless brewers will be willing to absorb the cost of the actual processing and packaging or to pass it along.

According to Modern Farmer, many of the efforts being made under the same act, which is intended to approach food safety in a preventative, rather than reactionary manner, will hurt food artisans, such as cheese and craft beer makers, while favoring larger producers, which long ago gave up traditional crafting methods. The article referred to the recently withdrawn demand that cheese makers no longer use the time-honored method of aging cheese on boards, which is thought to be responsible for some of the superior flavors in specialty cheeses.

"Like with the cheese panic, this recent bungle adds fuel to the pyre critics have been building under the new act since its inception in 2011. Many have argued that the act strangles small-scale, mom and pop operations, while the mass-producing giants -- most of whom ditched artisanal methods eons ago -- skate by unscathed."

Even Congress decried the potential for waste and needless price increases. Thirteen members of the House of Representatives sent a letter to Dr. Margaret Hamburg, commissioner of the FDA, detailing their concerns. "During the process of making beer, brewers heat grains to extract sugars, proteins, and other nutrients. These spent grains are a byproduct of this process and serve no useful purpose for the brewer. Since at least the Middle Ages, brewers have donated or sold (often for very little money) these spent grains to farmers, who may use them as feed for livestock. 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. The cost of compliance with the rule would effectively prohibit brewers from providing spent grains to farmers for animal feed. These include costs to identify potential food safety hazards, estimate how likely they are to occur, predict how severe the effects would be, identify and implement preventative controls, monitor spent grains for any hazards, and develop a written recall plan. Inevitably, limiting a source of free, or nearly free, animal feed will mean additional costs for the farmers who use spent grains."

The senate has noticed the issue as well. In a recent press release, Sen. Charles Schumer shared a quote from a representative of a New York brewer. "The F.X. Matt Brewing Co. has been providing spent grain to farmers since 1888. The process helps keep down both our costs and the farmers'. This FDA proposal against spent grain would reverse a century-old practice here at the brewery while driving up our costs."

The FDA, in a document promising to address industry concerns on this issue admitted that up to 70 percent of the waste associated with human food production is turned into animal feed. As any farm wife who feeds dried up bread or fruit and vegetable peelings to hens knows, this can turn a significant source of waste into a meaningful asset. Plus it is a lot of fun to watch them scramble after their treats, clucking and chortling madly all the while.

Hopefully when the final rule is written the FDA won't throw the baby out with the bath water, or the good, natural, animal feed, not to mention the common sense, out with the regulation.

And whether you blame it on high food prices, a stagnant economy, or a decline in moral values, rural crime seems to be on the rise. For example, Kentucky is seeing a marked increase in cattle rustling. According to the Courier Journal in that state, at least a half a dozen incidents have occurred in one county alone, where previously there might have been only two thefts per year. Ag extension agent Dan Grigson pointed out that although thefts of small property, such as chainsaws, tools and four-wheelers have increased in the past decade, this escalation into cattle theft is relatively recent. One farmer lost more than $30,000 worth of stock in one incident.

This trend has been evident locally as well, with a valuable hay baler stolen right out of the field not far from here. A nice tractor was also severely vandalized, and many smaller incidents seem to be coming to light.

As haying season proceeds between the raindrops, farmers are doing their best to get in their winter feed. Even in good weather this means long hours in the fields, with the end of the day's field work often taking place after dark. With fewer farmers working over greater distances, machinery is often left where work is taking place, sometimes far from the buildings of the home place.

It appears that this offers temptation to thieves and vandals, despite the practice having been traditional for longer than I can remember. If you know anything about these incidents, the state police are looking for tips. Give them a call.

Fultonville dairy farmer MARIANNE FRIERS

is a regular columnist. She blogs