Centennial celebration

by Arvin Donley
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When 18 men involved in the livestock feed industry agreed on March 26, 1909 in Chicago, Illinois, U.S., to form a new association that would represent their common interests, they probably couldn’t have imagined how large and diverse the organization would be 100 years later.

The American Feed Industry Association (AFIA), known as the American Feed Manufacturers Association when it first came into existence a century ago, has evolved into an organization that not only represents livestock feed manufacturers but a host of other related sectors such as pet food manufacturers, feed equipment suppliers, ingredient suppliers and integrators.

With membership that includes 500 domestic and international companies and represents more than 75% of the commercial feed production in the United States, AFIA bills itself as the largest organization devoted exclusively to representing the business, legislative and regulatory interests of the animal feed industry and its suppliers.

THE EARLY YEARS

Although AFIA’s membership and the amount of services it provides them have grown exponentially, the basic mission that was created by the founding fathers — to ensure a productive and beneficial environment for the feed industry to do business — has not changed.

The first state law that regulated food sales for humans and animals was enacted in Connecticut in 1895, and over the next 14 years 29 more states adopted similar types of measures. But the lack of uniform legislation from state to state and the rapid development of transportation infrastructure, which meant an increasing amount of feed products were being shipped across state lines, led to problems.

In the first meeting in 1909, G.D. Simonds of Flour & Feed magazine delivered an impassioned speech about the need to unify as one voice to promote the adoption of a model set of feed laws and regulations in the individual states. From the accounts of those first meetings, it is clear the founding fathers grasped the need for a uniform set of laws and regulations pertaining to livestock feed.

"That vision is still carried over today, and it’s the principal function of the association from a legislative and regulatory standpoint," AFIA Vice-President Richard Sellers told World Grain.

Sellers noted that details about what transpired in AFMA during its first 24 years were a bit sketchy, since no minutes survive from the meetings. But 1933 was a pivotal year for the organization, as it became incorporated, started keeping regular minutes, and formed a board of directors, which oversaw AFMA’s day-to-day operations.

Perhaps the most important milestone that AFIA was a part of during this period was the 1938 Food, Drug and Cosmetic Act, which served as the legislative foundation for creating a feed ingredient approval process. Then came World War II, which had a profound impact on the industry.

"At one of the board meetings it mentions that several members brought up the fact that Selective Services was taking so many able-bodied men that they were having trouble staffing mills," Sellers said.

MERGING AND RESTRUCTURING

In 1985, the American Feed Manufacturers Association changed its name to the American Feed Industry Association, and in the years that followed a number of groups merged with AFIA. These mergers included the addition of the Grain Equipment Manufacturers Association in 1987, the National Feed Ingredients Association in 1992, and the Alfalfa Processors Association in 2001.

With this dramatic growth came the need to add staff and organize more committees — there are more than a dozen active committees in AFIA today — to ensure that the interests of all segments of its membership were represented, particularly from a legislative and regulatory standpoint.

"The committees are a core part of the process for developing positions on various issues, and within the last year and a half we have also added member interest groups," AFIA President Joel Newman told World Grain. "There are only 15 seats per committee, so not all members have the chance to participate on a committee, but they do all have the opportunity to participate in a member interest group. We in essence give them information on an issue, but also get input on how they’d like us to proceed on an issue."

One of the most significant changes in the organization’s history occurred in 2006, when AFIA completed an allencompassing restructuring to better position itself to respond to the needs of its members as well as changes in the industry.

The restructuring plan, which was announced by Newman when he took office in 2004, began with the most comprehensive membership survey ever conducted by the association. Every member was given the chance to provide input either on the telephone with a staff member or via e-mail.

"We talked with more than 35% of our members, and we did it one on one," Newman said. "When we were basically able to boil that down, we ended up with 10 major messages that came from the members. That was what really guided this task force in terms of redesigning the association. The first one was that our primary role is legislative and regulatory leadership. Members almost unanimously said that was what they were paying their dues for. They also said that as the association offers other member services and events, those ought to be self-sustaining."

As a result of this dialogue, AFIA leadership began to examine the value of the AFIA Feed Show and whether it would be more cost-efficient to hold it every third year as opposed to more often. Ultimately, they decided it would be more detrimental than helpful and began exploring the feasibility of co-locating their event on an annual basis with another agriculture-related association’s event.

In 2006, AFIA reached an agreement with the U.S. Poultry and Egg Association to co-locate their trade shows in Atlanta, Georgia, U.S. on an annual basis beginning in 2007. The International Poultry Expo/International Feed Expo now attracts nearly 20,000 attendees per year.

"Fortunately we found an excellent match when we came to an agreement with IPE," Newman said. "We looked at several options, but it was the one that far and away made the most sense for industry members and for both organizations."

In response to the membership survey, AFIA made four promises to its members: 1) that they will have a voice as part of the total feed industry; 2) that it will provide to its member companies expert legislative and regulatory leadership and representation; 3) that it will make available individualized personal support through confidential staff expertise; and 4) that it will provide its members access to unparalleled member services.

Another significant milestone was the launch of AFIA’s landmark Safe Feed/Safe Food Certification Program on Sept. 22, 2004. The program was created to demonstrate and ensure continuous improvement in the delivery of a safe and wholesome feed supply for the growth and care of animals.

"One of the most important things the association has done in recent years is develop and implement the Safe Feed/Safe Food system," Newman said. "FDA has held it up as a model program for the feed and food industry. It is getting a lot of recognition, because as FDA officials go out and inspect the plants that are involved in the program they are seeing results."

INTERNATIONAL EXPANSION

A century ago, it was the rapid development of interstate trade that prompted U.S. feed manufacturers to form the AFMA to develop uniformity in state laws. Today, AFIA’s influence extends well beyond the U.S. borders as it seeks to open new foreign markets for its members’ products and, as a member of the International Feed Industry Federation (IFIF), works to find common ground on issues that impact the global feed industry.

"We are working much more on a global basis today than we ever did before," Newman said. While developing uniform legislation for all feed-producing countries is not practical, Newman said the IFIF has been successful in "harmonizing" the industry on a global basis on critical issues, particularly by coordinating and representing the broader industry at the negotiations of the Codex Alimentarius Commission. CODEX was created in 1963 by the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) and the World Health Organization (WHO) to develop food standards, guidelines and related texts such as codes of practice under the Joint FAO/ WHO Food Standards Programme.

One of AFIA’s most significant accomplishments from an international perspective is the recently signed agreement with the Feed Additives and Premixtures Association of the European Union (FEFANA) that will permit auditors of AFIA’s Safe Feed/Safe Food program to inspect U.S. manufacturers for compliance with European feed hygiene and ingredients standards.

"Our members tell us Europe remains a top destination for U.S. feed and feed ingredients," Newman said. "Since the E.U. has arguably the most stringent feed regulatory program with the implementation of HACCP, we feel it is best to design a program for members that provides access to the 27 (E.U.) member states as a first step to our International Safe Feed/ Safe Food Certification Program efforts."

CURRENT ISSUES

From a legislative and regulatory standpoint, Newman said the most pressing issue facing the industry today is feed safety. Congress and regulators responded to the melamine pet food contamination scandal of 2007 by looking to enact more measures that would safeguard the feed supply.

AFIA said its goal is to encourage legislation that will make the feed supply safer, but also to push for regulations that are both effective and cost-efficient. Sellers said the concern is that FDA, which has also dealt with food-related scandals in recent years involving tainted spinach, peanut butter, tomatoes and jalapenos, will create costly regulations that lump the feed industry together with the food industry. He said the FDA is estimating that the new regulations, if enacted, would cost the industry between $200 and $300 million.

"We’re working to separate the food and feed from that," Sellers said. "For instance, sanitizing food preparation surfaces really has no applicability to the feed industry."

There are also issues relating to environmental policy, energy policy, occupational health standards and immigration reform that could have a profound effects on the feed industry’s financial bottom line and how its business is conducted.

"Everything being proposed in those areas would have a potentially significant cost on the industry," Newman said. "We need practical solutions that bring value to both the consumer and the industry to make sure that we’re not just putting regulations in place for the sake of regulation." WG

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