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Sonoma County brewers say beer is good for cows, too (w/video)

  • Cattle feed on the spent grains from brewing beer at Oak Ridge Ranch in the Alexander Valley. For the past 18 years the LaFranchi family has teamed with Bear Republic Brewing Co. to put the grains to use feeding beef cattle. Their cattle production has increased in tandem with the Healdsburg-based beer maker.

If such rules are adopted, "the whole process would have to go away," said Rich Norgrove, brewmaster at Bear Republic in Healdsburg and Cloverdale. "It would become cost prohibitive."

For 18 years, Bear Republic has sold its spent grains to Knight's Valley rancher Cheryl LaFranchi, who has come to rely on it as a main food source for her 300 or so head of cattle. She takes up to 12.5 tons at a time, five times a week.

"Now the government wants to get involved," she said. "What are they going to do with it? Put it in a landfill?"

Beer And Beef Cows

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That's exactly what will happen at Anderson Valley Brewing in Boonville if the regulations are approved, said brewmaster Fal Allen. The brewery generates nearly 1,500 tons of spent grain every year, all of which goes to nearby rancher Peter Bradford. But the likely cost of the extra food processing equipment and paperwork would make it cheaper just to dump it, Allen said.

That would spell disaster for the ranch, Bradford said, because the price he pays Anderson Valley for the grain is considerably less than any other feed.

"It would be a tremendous hit on our production," he said. "We rely on the grain ... It is certainly one of the best feeds for the price."

The FDA is collecting comment on the proposal through Monday. The Brewers Association and the Beer Institute, the two primary industry associations, have mobilized brewers and farmers to weigh in against the idea. Lawmakers from major brewing states, such as Colorado and Oregon, also have spoken out against it, Brewers Association Director Paul Gatza said.

"Grains have been given to livestock for thousands of years, and there's not been a problem with this," Gatza said. "This is just a regulation solving a problem that doesn't exist."

Beer Institute spokesman Chris Thorne said he is optimistic the industry will convince the FDA that the proposal "exceeds the intent of Congress" when it passed recent legislation calling for an overhaul of food safety rules.

Using spent grain as feed "is a terrific lifecycle story that should be encouraged," he said, "because it's basically recycling."


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