USDA Considers Standardizing Tests for Distillers Grains

By Jessica Ebert | November 01, 2007
In July, the USDA Grain Inspection, Packers and Stockyards Administration (GIPSA) published an advanced notice of proposed rulemaking in the Federal Register. GIPSA facilitates the marketing of grain and related agricultural products in the United States by establishing grading standards and testing methods, among other roles. This new notice invited stakeholders in the ethanol industry—producers, handlers, processors, livestock feeders and other industry representatives—to comment on whether the agency should get involved in the marketing of distillers grains.

"In accordance with GIPSA's authority and in recognition of the rapidly evolving ethanol market, the agency published this advanced notice of proposed rulemaking to invite comments from interested persons on what role, if any, the agency should play with regard to establishing standards, standard definitions, and/or standard testing methods for bulk grain going into ethanol production and for the resultant coproducts," said Marianne Plaus, chief market and program analysis staff member with GIPSA.

This new action by the agency follows a 2004 recommendation by GIPSA's Grain Inspection Advisory Committee to explore the ethanol industry's need for coproduct marketing standards. To that end, the agency's Market Analysis and Standards Branch (MASB) gathered second-hand information from literature, and directly from government and industry representatives. The MASB concluded that although most sources said there is no need for federal grading standards for distillers grains, the majority of stakeholders said GIPSA may play a role in distillers grains marketing through its process verification program, and by assisting in the standardization and validation of quality testing methods. The latter stems from a concern among some end users about the variability in the quality of distillers grains from supplier to supplier and even from batch to batch. Although this variability is due in part to the initial quality of the feedstock, it also results from the array of analytical tests used to assay the components of distillers grains.

"Some industry participants have indicated that there may be a role for GIPSA in helping to improve definitions for the coproducts and to standardize the tests for various attributes of the grains going into ethanol production and the resultant coproducts," Plaus says. "Others have told us that existing definitions are adequate and that other organizations are sufficiently working toward testing standardization."

One such organization is the American Feed Industry Association (AFIA). The AFIA, along with the Renewable Fuel Association, the Distillers Grain Technology Council, Poet LLC and Archer Daniels Midland Co., released a study in February that evaluated the variability of different test methods within certain laboratories and between labs. The study concluded with a set of recommended methods for analyzing the moisture, protein, fat and fiber content in distillers dried grains with solubles (DDGS). "We've narrowed it down to one procedure for each analyte," explains Charlie Staff, executive director of the Distillers Grain Technology Council. "These procedures are not new and have already been through the verification process for other feedstuffs. We think we've dealt with the issue."

On the issue of variability, Richard Sellers, vice president of feed regulation and nutrition for the AFIA, says that it can be controlled by the rules of trade. "Our position on variability is that it is a marketplace issue that can be controlled by performance standards and customer purchasing agreements," he says. "We just don't want to see the government researching the variability of a product that is either inherent because of the feedstock or that can be controlled by the company."

Once the comment period that was extended into November has expired, GIPSA will review comments and decide how to proceed. If the agency does become involved in standardizing testing methods, its role would be as a voluntary service provider, Plaus explains. "As we do for other processed products, we would provide service only when requested by a customer," she says.