In the 17 years Jim Engelbart has worked for Empyrean Brewing Co., the company has always given away its spent grains to local farmers to use as cattle feed.
The practice saves the Lincoln brewery the cost of disposing of the waste, which is a byproduct of the mashing and brewing process, while providing an inexpensive source of feed for small farmers.
"They're doing us a favor, and we're doing them a favor," said Engelbart, Empyrean's operations manager.
However, Engelbart and other brewers say regulations being proposed by the Food and Drug Administration would effectively put an end to the practice.
The FDA wants to make brewers meet the same standards that livestock- and pet-food manufacturers must meet, which include sanitary handling procedures, record-keeping and other food safety processes.
To meet the new standards, breweries say they would have to dry the spent grains and then package them before distributing them to farmers as feed.
Brian Podwinski, president of Blue Blood Brewing, said doing so would be cost-prohibitive.
"To dry it and then package it - that not only takes another employee, but a lot of energy and equipment that none of us have," he said.
The Beer Institute, a trade industry group, estimates it would cost a brewery $13 million in one-time and recurring costs to be able to meet the FDA standards.
"It's a cost that we couldn't bear," said Marcus Powers, one of the owners of Zipline Brewing, another Lincoln-based brewery.
Powers said Zipline produces about four tons of spent grains a week, which would likely have to go to the landfill if the brewery couldn't continue to give it away in its current form.
Powers said he doesn't know how much that would cost his company.
Engelbart said sending the 10,000-11,000 pounds of spent grains Empyrean produces every week to the landfill would triple the brewery's costs for trash disposal.
Currently, a local dairy farmer comes to the brewery in the Haymarket once or twice a week with an open trailer, and Empyrean shoots the spent grains straight out of the silo it uses to store them.
Zipline and Blue Blood operate in a similar fashion with their spent grains, although on a slightly smaller scale.
Doug Drevo, who has a small cattle operation near Lincoln, picks up the spent grains from Blue Blood's brewing operations.
He said not only is using the spent grains much cheaper than having to buy corn or hay, the material has a higher protein content and makes a better cattle feed.
Drevo said that if the proposed regulations go into effect, they would "significantly increase the costs of raising cattle."
For its part, the FDA says the proposed regulations are aimed at improving the safety of animal food by requiring facilities that make such products to take preventive steps to ensure the food is safe and to prevent food-borne illnesses in animals and people.
The agency says the proposal is part of the Food Safety Modernization Act's larger effort to modernize the food safety system for the 21st century and focus on preventing food safety problems before they occur, rather than relying primarily on responding to problems after the fact.
However, critics of the proposal say that's part of the problem. Without any evidence of problems or safety concerns, the regulations would place an unnecessary burden on brewers, they say.
"Absent evidence that breweries' spent grains as currently handled cause any hazards to animals or humans, the proposed rules create new and onerous burdens for brewers and for farmers who may no longer receive spent grain and will have to purchase additional feed," the Brewers Association, another industry group, said in a statement last week.
March 31 was the deadline for public comments on the proposed regulations.