U.S. Rep. Chellie Pingree of Maine said Tuesday that she is co-sponsoring legislation that would prevent the Food and Drug Administration from putting new restrictions on the way beer brewers handle spent grain, an organic byproduct of the brewing process.

Brewers sell the mashed brown sludge left over after brewing to farmers, who feed the protein-rich mixture to livestock. In October, the FDA proposed rules that would require brewers to handle the grain as animal feed, which must be dried and packaged before it may be sold.

If it’s not fed to livestock, the grain could end up in landfills.

“Let’s be clear,” Pingree said in a prepared statement. “This grain has already been used in a process safe enough to make a product for human consumption. It’s silly to think it’s going to be dangerous for cows. Feeding this grain to animals is a sustainable practice that has gone on for literally hundreds of years.”

The proposed rule is part of the 2011 Food Safety Modernization Act, which gave the FDA authority to overhaul federal food safety regulations. It came about because of concerns about tainted pet food imported from China and salmonella outbreaks caused by improper food handling.

The proposed regulation would cover all types of foods destined for pets, farm animals and zoos.

The Protecting Sustainable Use of Spent Grains Act would amend the FDA Food Safety Modernization Act to make it clear that the law does not apply to brewers that provide spent grain to farmers, Pingree’s office said.

In Maine, thousands of head of cattle and other animals eat the mixture, which is produced in mass quantities by brewers and often offered to farmers for free. During peak brewing season, for instance, Shipyard Brewery Co. in Portland produces as much as 600 tons of spent grain per week, said Sean Sullivan, executive director of the Maine Brewers’ Guild.

Guild members have been lobbying Maine lawmakers to oppose the rule change, and Sullivan was elated by news of the bill.

“Basically, its an overreach,” Sullivan said of the FDA proposal. “There’s no reason to do it.”

Three other U.S. representatives have signed on to the legislation: Republican Steve Womack of Arkansas, and Democrats Peter Welch of Vermont and Cory Gardner of Colorado.

Pingree is married to S. Donald Sussman, majority share owner of MaineToday Media, which publishes the Portland Press Herald, the Kennebec Journal in Augusta and the Morning Sentinel in Waterville.

Matt Byrne can be contacted at 791-6303 or at:

mbyrne@pressherald.com

Twitter: MattByrnePPH