Thursday May 28th, 2020 1:25PM

Ethanol plants seek rule changes to resupply hand sanitizer

By The Associated Press
Related Articles
  Contact Editor

DES MOINES, Iowa (AP) — As hospitals and nursing homes desperately search for hand sanitizer amid the coronavirus outbreak, federal regulators are preventing ethanol producers from providing millions of gallons of alcohol that could be transformed into the germ-killing mixture.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration's roadblock has been frustrating the health care and ethanol industries, which have been calling for a relaxed regulation to deal with the public health care emergency.

“Hand sanitizer is a big part of our lives,” said Eric Barber, CEO of Mary Lanning Healthcare, a hospital in Hastings, Nebraska. “We can’t get any. We order it and it’s just not available.”

The problem for the ethanol industry is that most plants make food-grade ethanol, one step below the highest pharmaceutical grade. But since the plants aren't certified to comply with stringent production standards designed to protect quality of medicines, food ingredients and dietary supplements, the FDA doesn't want the alcohol used for a product to be applied to the skin.

In addition, the alcohol is not denatured or mixed with a bitter additive to make it undrinkable. The FDA insists this step is “critical” because of cases of poisoning, sometimes fatal, among young children who have accidentally ingested hand sanitizers.

An FDA spokesman said Thursday that regulators have already seen a rise in poisonings linked to hand sanitizers in recent weeks, “heightening this public concern.”

The FDA is also skeptical of industry claims that undenatured sanitizers could be distributed in a way that would keep them away from children.

“It is unclear what, if any, measure could be instituted to ensure that the product does not make its way into consumer hands, where children could have access,” FDA’s Jeremy Kahn said in an emailed statement.

Facing a nationwide shortage, Barber said the FDA should temporarily relax regulations to allow alternative production.

“You’re talking about alcohol. Does it matter if it's fuel grade or whatever the stuff is they’re trying to price gouge now? I think its common sense,” he said.

The American Hospital Association encouraged flexibility to help protect patients and caregivers, without directly weighing in on the sanitizer dispute.

“We may need to consider a range of possible solutions that were not on the table before the pandemic,” said Nancy Foster, a vice president with the group, in an emailed statement to the AP.

The Consumer Brands Association, formerly the Grocery Manufacturers Association, has had conversations with the FDA to push the agency to reconsider its guidelines. The group, which represents branded food, consumer products and beverage companies, said that hand sanitizer supplies are running so low that its members have had to ration it out to workers in stores, distribution centers and manufacturing plants.

"We need a temporary solution," said Mike Gruber, vice president of regulatory and technical affairs at the trade association. “This goes toward ensuring basic food safety practices.”

Distillers that produce vodka, whisky and other alcoholic drinks have been given some regulatory waivers by the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau allowing them to produce hand sanitizer. Many have done that, but they produce much smaller volumes of alcohol than an ethanol plant could produce. They also receive a benefit in the Senate-passed stimulus bill.

The Distilled Spirits Council of the United States, which represents dozens of large and small distillers, applauded Congress for easing taxes on distillers who make hand sanitizer.

Under the stimulus package passed late Wednesday, distillers don’t have to pay federal excise taxes on alcohol used for hand sanitizer through Jan. 1, 2021.

“Hundreds of U.S. distillers are stepping up to produce hand sanitizer and they should not be hit with a huge tax bill for producing this much-needed item, especially at a time when so many of them are struggling,” said Chris Swonger, the group’s president and CEO.

But the council said it’s urging the FDA to update its guidance and let distillers use undenatured alcohol for hand sanitizer. The stimulus bill requires distillers to follow the FDA’s guidance if they want to receive the tax breaks.

The FDA has waived dozens of regulations in recent weeks to boost production of key medical supplies, including coronavirus tests, ventilators, gloves and hand sanitizers.

Under the latest FDA guidelines, regulators maintain standards for alcohol, requiring new producers to use alcohol that meets federal or international standards for use in either drugs or food products.

The regulatory hurdles are especially frustrating for Midwest ethanol producers who are facing plunging fuel demand and a petroleum fight between Saudi Arabia and Russia that caused prices to plummet. The factors are forcing more plants to curtail production and close.

For ethanol producers relaxed rules, including a requirement of the hard-to-acquire denaturant, would allow them to step in an help in a national emergency.

“If we could get the FDA to say yes you can use the beverage grade and for the duration of this emergency at least for some point in time here for the next two weeks you can waive the denaturant we would literally have millions of gallons of hand sanitizer available within a matter of days,” said Monte Shaw, CEO of Iowa Renewable Fuels Association, an ethanol trade group. “Every one of our plants has gotten contacted by people who want this stuff and we can’t send it to them.”

Andrew Vrbas owner of Pacha Soap, a boutique soap shop in Hastings, Nebraska, had just finished renovating a 100,000-square-foot former bread factory as a project to boost the community. Now, he’s preparing to set up hand sanitizer production there to supply to hospitals. He’s received calls from hospitals in Nebraska, Florida and New York City seeking hand sanitizer.

“We are literally three miles from a plant that has as much ethanol as you could imagine,” he said. “We’re sitting on millions of gallons of alcohol. If we could rally the federal government to say look if you just let us work with local ethanol producers we have the expertise, we have the ability to provide hand sanitizer to hospitals not only in Nebraska but all across the country that are just reaching out through my network saying if you could send us hand sanitizer, we’re out.”


Retail Writer Anne D'Innocenzio contributed from New York City, Health Writer Matthew Perrone from Washington and Auto Writer Dee-Ann Durbin from Ann Arbor, Michigan.

  • Associated Categories: U.S. News, Associated Press (AP), AP National News, AP Online National News, Top U.S. News short headlines, Top General short headlines, AP Business, AP Business - Consumer News, AP Business - Corporate News, AP Business - Economy, AP Business - Industries, AP Business - Health Care, AP Business - Utilities
© Copyright 2020
All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed without permission.
Ethanol plants seek rule changes to resupply hand sanitizer
Hospitals and nursing homes are desperately searching for hand sanitizer amid the coronavirus outbreak and the ethanol industry is ready to step in to provide the alcohol, a key ingredient
6:36PM ( 12 minutes ago )
Half-million infected worldwide as economic toll rises
The United States now leads the world in the number of confirmed coronavirus cases
6:36PM ( 12 minutes ago )
US couple, adopted daughter, caught in India virus lockdown
A Georgia couple who traveled to India to adopt a child have been unable to return home after Indian authorities locked down the country because of the coronavirus
6:24PM ( 24 minutes ago )
U.S. News
The Latest: Peyton Manning drops in on Tennessee class
Five-time NFL MVP and former University of Tennessee quarterback Peyton Manning dropped in on one of his alma mater’s online classes to boost the spirits of students having to finish their coursework virtually because of the coronavirus pandemic
6:32PM ( 16 minutes ago )
Internet firm restricts virus-themed website registrations
An internet firm that registers website domain names says it will combat coronavirus-related fraud by ending automated registration of website names that include words or phrases related to the COVID-19 pandemic
6:31PM ( 17 minutes ago )
US could get stake in airlines in exchange for virus grants
The Trump administration is raising the possibility of the U.S. government getting ownership stakes in U.S. airlines in exchange for billions in direct grants to help the carriers survive a downturn cause
6:22PM ( 25 minutes ago )
Associated Press (AP)
Trump says feds developing new guidelines for virus risk
President Donald Trump says federal officials are developing guidelines to rate counties by risk of virus spread
5:50PM ( 58 minutes ago )
US indicts Venezuela's Maduro on narcoterrorism charges
The U.S. Justice Department has indicted Venezuela's socialist leader Nicolás Maduro and several key aides on charges of narcoterrorism
5:26PM ( 1 hour ago )
The Latest: UK residents applaud health service staff
Across the United Kingdom, people took to their windows and front porches to applaud everyone in the National Health Service for their work in fighting the coronavirus pandemic
5:09PM ( 1 hour ago )
AP National News
Taylor Swift surprises some of her fans with money donations
Taylor Swift is helping fill the blank space where incomes have gone for several of her fans
5:36PM ( 1 hour ago )
The Latest: NFL releases PSA encouraging fans to stay home
The NFL has released a public service announcement in conjunction with an announcement of a donation of more than $35 million in COVID-19 relief aid
5:31PM ( 1 hour ago )
None of the 'Big Five' publishers will attend BookExpo
All of the so-called “Big Five” publishers have dropped out of BookExpo, the industry's annual national convention
5:28PM ( 1 hour ago )
AP Business
With billions at stake, banks try to save stunned borrowers
Facing near certainty of millions of Americans defaulting on hundreds of billions of loans all at once because of the coronavirus outbreak, banks are scrambling to put into place loan forgiveness and relief programs to prevent their customers from panicking and to protect their own finances
2:44PM ( 2 days ago )
$10 toilet paper? Coronavirus gouging complaints surge in US
Across a country where some shelves are empty and patience is thin, authorities are receiving a surge of reports about people trying to cash in on the coronavirus crisis with outrageous prices, phony cures and other scams. An Associated Press survey of attorneys generals in all 50 states found the number of complaints has already exceeded 5,000
6:19PM ( 1 week ago )
Amid virus crisis, officials announce health care tech rules
Coronavirus may be at the top of Americans' concerns, but top Trump administration officials tried to switch subjects by announcing new health care tech rules on Monday
5:39PM ( 2 weeks ago )
AP Business - Consumer News
The Latest: NFL's Packers extend closure of Lambeau Field
The Green Bay Packers have extended the closure of Lambeau Field through at least April 24 to help minimize the spread of the coronavirus in Wisconsin
2:05PM ( 4 hours ago )
Hockey equipment maker Bauer shifts to medical shields
Hockey equipment manufacturer Bauer has shifted from making visors for helmets to medical visors for those fighting the coronavirus pandemic
12:51PM ( 5 hours ago )
Ford, Honda, Toyota seek to restart plants closed by virus
Ford, Honda and Toyota took steps Thursday to restart North American factories that have been closed to protect workers from the coronavirus
12:44PM ( 6 hours ago )
AP Business - Corporate News
Stocks rise sharply on Wall Street, heading for 3-day rally
Stocks are up 4% Thursday, putting the market on track for its first three-day rally in six weeks, even as the astonishing scale of the downturn slamming the economy because of the coronavirus becomes more apparent
3:42PM ( 3 hours ago )
DC officials: Relief bill cheats Washington of $700 million
Officials in the nation's capital are lashing out at the $2.2 trillion coronavirus economic relief package moving through Congress, saying it cheats Washington, D
3:28PM ( 3 hours ago )
The Latest: Another US immigration detainee has virus
A 52-year-old man detained in New Jersey has become the second person in U.S. immigration detention to test positive for COVID-19
2:33PM ( 4 hours ago )
AP Business - Economy
EU leaders battle coronavirus on health, economic fronts
European Union leaders are holding a summit aimed at containing the spread of the coronavirus and managing its devastating impact on their economies
11:32AM ( 7 hours ago )
Jobless after virus lockdown, India's poor struggle to eat
Some of India's legions of poor and others suddenly thrown out of work by a nationwide stay-at-home are beginning to receive aid, as both public and private groups work to blunt the impact of efforts to curb the coronavirus pandemic
8:52AM ( 9 hours ago )
The Latest: Stock futures trim losses on unemployment data
U.S. stock futures are rebounding after the U.S. government said nearly 3.3 million people filed for unemployment benefits last week, a dramatic indication of the impact of the coronavirus outbreak on the U.S. economy
8:44AM ( 10 hours ago )
AP Business - Industries
California governor: 5 big banks suspend mortgage payments
California Gov. Gavin Newsom says five of the nation's largest banks have agreed to temporarily suspend  residential mortgage payments for those affected by the coronavirus
8:16PM ( 22 hours ago )
Chicago uses hotels for quarantine to ease hospital demand
Chicago's plan to reserve at least 1,000 hotel rooms for coronavirus patients through partnerships with five hotels is the first such strategy unveiled in the U.S. But it's unlikely to be the last
6:05PM ( 1 day ago )
A third of Georgia's 1,250 coronavirus patients hospitalized
State health officials say confirmed infections from the new coronavirus in Georgia have risen to nearly 1,250
5:52PM ( 1 day ago )
AP Business - Health Care
Airlines, others to benefit from $2 trillion rescue bill
The White House and Senate leaders agreed early Wednesday on a $2 trillion economic rescue package, the largest in the country's history
6:30PM ( 1 day ago )
Judge orders environmental review of Dakota Access pipeline
A federal judge on Wednesday ordered the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to conduct a full environmental review of the Dakota Access pipeline, nearly three years after it began carrying oil
5:15PM ( 1 day ago )
The Latest: Pakistan suspending domestic flights
Pakistani authorities have decided to suspend all domestic flight operations from Thursday until April 2 as part of efforts aimed at curbing the spread of the new coronavirus
1:31AM ( 1 day ago )
AP Business - Utilities
Half-million infected worldwide as economic toll rises
The United States now leads the world in the number of confirmed coronavirus cases
6:36PM ( 12 minutes ago )
US couple, adopted daughter, caught in India virus lockdown
A Georgia couple who traveled to India to adopt a child have been unable to return home after Indian authorities locked down the country because of the coronavirus
6:24PM ( 24 minutes ago )
The Latest: US leads world in confirmed coronavirus cases
The United States now leads the world in the number of confirmed coronavirus cases
6:06PM ( 42 minutes ago )
Smaller communities prepare for onslaught of virus patients
The infections in New York City have dominated much of the national conversation about the coronavirus
6:00PM ( 48 minutes ago )
What you need to know today about the virus outbreak
The number of people around the world who have contracted coronavirus has surged past 500,000, and U.S. deaths from the pandemic have now topped 1,000
5:44PM ( 1 hour ago )