Feed on

I’m not in the mood to rant and rave about this silliness, especially since we here at the Wintercow Brewing Company partake in a very “small scale” version of the same:

In Maine and across the country, brewers and farmers have formed handshake agreements: Brewers brew beer, producing barrels or truckloads full of heavy, wet spent grains. These grains have been heated up to extract sugars, proteins and other nutrients that go on to make beer. The process is called mashing. The spent grains are a byproduct — with no real usefulness purpose left for the brewer.

To the farmer, spent grains are a valuable dietary supplement for their livestock. It’s common for breweries to reach out to local farms to offer up their spent grains as animal feed. Most often, farmers are happy to oblige, picking up the spent grains themselves a few times per week. Little or no money exchanges hands during these deals. Brewers are glad to get rid of the grain, and farmers are glad to take it off their hands.

“FDA understands that many breweries and distilleries sell spent grains … as animal food. Because those spent grains are not alcoholic beverages themselves, and they are not in a prepackaged form that prevents any direct human contact with the food, the Agency tentatively concludes that subpart C of this proposed rule would apply to them,” according to the FDA rule.

Most small and medium-sized brewers wouldn’t be able to follow these rules without significant investment. Breweries that want to send their spent grains to farmers would have to dry, package and analyze the grains, all without it touching human hands. These efforts would cost brewers money, time and resources, making it too much of a hassle for some to continue partnerships with farmers, according to critics.

Actually, there’s no reason to rant and rave. I am pretty sure people are doing their jobs. We have a statute that is intended to protect the feedstock of animals, and I can see no reason why some feedstocks ought to be treated differently than others. Where you ought focus is not on whether brewers should get an exemption, but in general the overall principle about whether feed needs to be regulated in this particular way in the first place. I don’t have an opinion on that right now, believe it or not – I am sick of living in a world where everyone is trying to get something carved out for themselves, get their little slice before everyone else does, and so on. My point is that it’s a bit of a red herring to get worked up about the silliness of not being able to feed spent mash grains to the cows.

The point I’d like to make instead is not even about the absurdity of the rules in some places, but rather that I am sure that when the FDA animal feedstock regulations were initially written that no one had any idea that the relationship between brewers and farms would be threatened. Yet here we are. And this is the way that the thousands of laws and regulations that are on the books are structured. Each unto themselves you may or may not be critical of – but there is simply no way to know at all how these rules interact with one another, and even if we are willing to make carve-outs and exceptions on a case by case basis, and each seems reasonable, it’s certainly not in accordance with the rule of law and certainly there is no way to know whether or not they can actually be carved-out anyway, even if we wanted to.

So think about the need to convert the entire energy sector into one that is less carbon intensive – a sector that took 50-60 years to put together in a far less strict regulatory environment and with far simpler and mature technologies. And think about rebuilding that entire sector with new technologies with myriad state, local and federal rules and regulations in place in a more populated, more litigious, more cantakerous country, and there is no way that we will see any kind of major transformation in the energy or other sector in our lifetime (for those of us born before 1980 or so).  And this is assuming that every person working for every regulatory agency and every new technology firm is NOT trying to get while the getting is good – in other words, in a polite world.

When someone sends me a note, for example, asking me “what do you think about the future of hydrogen cars” I don’t think of technical challenges or how much carbon or fossil fuels they may save, I first think of the spent mashing grains … and the time it took the “Freedom Tower” to get rebuilt … and how the “Cape Wind” project is going …

POSTSCRIPT: Every time I try to write a post calling for a bit of calm reflection, someone sends me this stuff.

4 Responses to “Why Energy Transitions Will Take Far Longer than is Typically Thought”

  1. Michael says:

    Not saying I agree or disagree, but I had some research done a while back on swill milk (which had a lot of other issues). I can’t remember the academic article I read, but here is a bit on it from wiki: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Swill_milk_scandal. As I recall, the issue was that just feeding distilled grains didn’t provide enough nutrition to get good milk, so they added a bunch of other junk to hide the poor quality of milk.

    • Michael says:

      I should mention that my comment was intended to provide some relevant history.

      • wintercow20 says:

        Of course, and it’s helpful – which indeed is why I tried in the post to suggest that ranting about the proposed regulation in itself is a bit too much.

  2. Harry says:

    I am sure people are doing their jobs, worrying about cows eating healthy food, or the pressing problem of cow flatulence. If the only science course one took was high school Ecology, I can understand the problem one might have with digesting the complexities of biological processes, especially when enforcing regulations.

    Regarding the proposition that we will not make a transition away from fossil energy as soon as is commonly thought, that is a complex question, but as usual WC is right.

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