Wyden cheers 'spent grain,' wine growler reversals

'It looks like (they have) sobered up' ... 'news deserves a toast'

PORTLAND, Ore. - Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., on Friday applauded a Food and Drug Administration decision to rewrite its controversial plan to regulate spent grains from brewers, saying it appeared agency officials had "sobered up" on the matter.

Spent grains – the result of the brewing process – are often given or sold to nearby ranchers and farmers to use as animal feed.

At roundtables across Oregon over the past two weeks, brewers and ranchers have told Wyden and Rep. Greg Walden, R-Ore., the FDA rule issued earlier this year would have created burdensome new regulations for using spent grains as feed, and resulted in thousands of pounds of grains going to waste, instead of being reused for sustainable agriculture.

"It looks like the Food and Drug Administration has sobered up when it comes to spent grains," Wyden said. "The agency deserves credit for acknowledging the flaws in its proposed rule, and pledging to issue a revised plan later this year. I will keep a close eye on the FDA to make sure the final proposal works for Oregon brewers and ranchers."

FDA Deputy Commissioner for Foods and Veterinary Medicine Michael Taylor announced the decision in a blog post by Thursday afternoon. The agency indicated a revised rule will be issued later this year.

"We agree with those in industry and the sustainability community that the recycling of human food by-products to animal feed contributes substantially to the efficiency and sustainability of our food system and is thus a good thing. We have no intention to discourage or disrupt it," Taylor wrote.

An aide to Walden called the FDA statement "an encouraging step," but said the congressman "will keep a close eye on the agency's actions moving forward to make sure the final proposal doesn't unnecessarily harm Oregon's brewers and ranchers."

In addition to being chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, Wyden is also co-chair of the Senate Bipartisan Small Brewers Caucus. The Oregon Brewers Guild estimated that it would cost Oregon beer makers $8.4 million a year to compost the spent grain where applicable or $18.2 million in landfill charges.

Wyden also announced that the federal agency that regulates the sale of alcohol has agreed to rescind an order that would have blocked the sale of wine growlers in Oregon.

In a letter to members of the Oregon delegation the administrator of the federal Alcohol, Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau's administrator wrote that he is immediately rescinding its ruling with respect to wine sold in growlers.

"This is news that deserves a toast – Wine growlers are once again legal in the State of Oregon," Wyden said. "I want to thank the Alcohol, Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau for managing to break through the bureaucratic morass and finding a common sense solution."

Last month, the Federal Alcohol, Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau, which is charged with regulating and taxing alcohol producers, announced that it would require that retailers selling wine in refillable containers known as growlers be subject to the same burdensome record-keeping, labeling and registration requirements as large wine bottling operations.

The regulation was in conflict with the intent of the Oregon Legislature, which last spring unanimously voted to allow Oregon retailers to sell wine growlers. In response, Wyden and other members of the delegation asked that ruling be rescinded. 

"I saw this issue as an example of a federal agency that is out of touch with the times," Wyden said. "In the letter to me and other members of the Oregon delegation today, the bureau acknowledged as much by saying that it needed to modernize its regulations regarding the sale of wine growlers."

While TTB has withdrawn the current ruling, the Bureau has left the door open to develop future regulation to accommodate retail sale of wine growlers, only after soliciting public comment from consumers and the industry. 

The Oregon wine industry generates $3 billion a year in economic activity and provides more than 13,000 jobs. Wyden was joined at the news conference by owners of Oregon wineries and representatives of the Oregon Winegrowers Association.

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