Tuesday, July 1, 2014

Putting Two and Two Together

Remember the brew-ha-ha a while back in which the FDA said it was going to start regulating and overseeing the sale of spent brewing grain? Regulations that would effectively mean that breweries that wanted to sell their spent grain to livestock producers would, for all intent and purposes, have to install food process equipment in their brew houses.

This new proposed rule, as of October of 2013, seemed to come out of the blue. I remember working for the Big House Brewing Company in Albany back in the mid 1990s. We sold our spent grain to a local farmer. That was 15 or 16 years ago—and my guess is the practice well proceed my tenure at the brewpub, by say, a few hundred years? Now all of a sudden, the federal government is concerned about the safety of spent grain. Why now?

Journalist Melissa Pandika, may have inadvertently uncovered the answer to that when she reported on the results of study by scientists at the Technical University of Madrid and the Spanish National Research Council that was described this past January a publication by the Royal Society of Chemistry, in her article on Ozy.com.

Pandika’s article is about those scientist developing a method for regenerating bone tissue using a less a expensive method than is being used today. The researchers have found what they think might be a viable organic alternative for synthetic calcium phosphate coatings currently used as growing surfaces—or scaffold—for the regeneration of bone cells for repairing severe breaks, or for grafts and dental implants. The current materials are really, really expensive, reports Pandika—like $92,000 per pound expensive. The new organic material, tested by the researchers, Pandika adds, is far less expensive—like about $50 a ton—less expensive.

So what’s the the organic material at the heart of this study?

Beer bagasse.

“Oh, really? You may ask. “Is beer bagasse, by chance, also known as spent grain?”

Yes. Yes it is.

"Ah ha." you add.

Did the FDA know about this study before its proposal of the regulation of spent grain? I have no idea. Are they trying to get out ahead of a possible boon for grain producers, brewers and the biomedical industry. Perhaps, but again I have no evidence. I’m not a conspiracy theorist, by any stretch of the imagination. Trust me I believe in both the holocaust and the moon landing. But I gotta say, this seems like more than a coincidence. I do however, think a quote from the article—and the report—sums everything up: 
“The researchers’ method for processing beer bagasse is ‘inexpensive and easily adoptable by the biomedical industry.’”
Easily adoptable, indeed, but it looks jury is still out on how the FDA feels about that.


  1. I dunno. The screams of "nanny state!" sorta overwhelmed the story that untreated spent grain was a known source of increased e coli in livestock. Self-appointed trade boosting experts lacking the science or risk management skills appear to be the main source of the FDA back down.

  2. To be fair, the government was concerned about the use of spent grains in the past, too. From the 1870s up to prohibition where were lots of calls to ban the use of spent grain because it created anemic cows that produced "swill milk" that poisoned babies. Still, not sure that it's worse than feeding livestock other livestock, but that's a different story.

  3. Yes, but spent grain was not the sole contributor to the Swill Milk scandal. The cows which supplied the swill milk were force fed spent grain, and were kept in squalorous and filthy conditions. Bovine disease was rampant in the milking factories. The cows would have been sick had they been fed standard feed too. The cows were also milked without taking proper sanitary practices—like hand washing—into consideration. The milk was often contaminated by humans as often as it was by the cows themselves. Also, swill milk was adulterated with things like plaster of paris and paint. My guess is plaster and paint aren't very good for babies, either.

  4. Yup, there were lots of things involved in the pure milk discussions which had nothing to do with spent grains, but spent grain was part of the issue that was examined and lots of people advocated banning spent grains from dairy feed (for decades). My only point was that the government had been concerned about the safety of spent grain in the past, not that it was the only -- or the worst -- issue in those debates, but clearly it was seen as a problem.

  5. You're absolutely correct, and it didn't harm the prohibitionist and temperance stance much, either!