After 15 years with the American Feed Industry Association (AFIA), Joel Newman will retire at the end of the year as president and chief executive officer of the organization.
Newman led the association through an era of change that included developing a strategic focus, expanding the staff, growing education programs and networking events as well as a global focus on the development of international food safety standards. He also served as president of the association’s public charity, the Institute for Feed Education and Research, and has represented the U.S. animal feed industry on international issues, including serving on the International Feed Industry Federation’s board of directors and as a member of the U.S. delegation to the Codex Alimentarius Commission.
In addition to the AFIA, Newman’s 48-year career in the agriculture and food industries included executive positions at Agway, Inc., Maple Leaf Foods, Inc., and United Cooperative Farmers. He has a master’s of business administration degree in finance from Syracuse University and a bachelor’s degree in animal science from West Virginia University.
World Grain talked with Newman about his accomplishments during his time with the AFIA, what the future holds for the organization’s yet-to-be-named leader, key issues for the industry and his plans during retirement.
WG: How has the industry changed and grown during the time you have been with the AFIA?
Newman: I think No. 1 is the significant advancement in new technologies. Those have primarily taken the form of new ingredients and feed additives combined with best practices, which has really allowed a more sustainable and significant increase of animal protein production in our industry. Technology is the main driver of the advancements of our industry.
We’ve certainly seen industry consolidation throughout the feed industry. But at the same time it has been fascinating to see the number of new players coming into the industry, which are bringing new technologies.
We are significantly a more global industry than even when I came here 15 years ago. This includes many companies that are marketing their products globally but also there isn’t anyone in this industry that’s not purchasing products on an international basis directly or indirectly. And of course with this global expansion, food safety and international trade standards have become a more significant factor.
The final thing that I think is quite different is the growing consumers interest in understanding where their food is coming from, how it’s produced and its nutritional value. That’s obviously had an impact in our role to make sure that they have those answers and can make the right choices. At the same time there are groups that would like to help them make those choices or take those choices away. Our industry has become much more active in sharing our story versus waiting for others to tell it for us.
WG: What were some of the key issues/challenges you faced and addressed as president and chief executive officer?
Newman: When I came on board, we were just getting into the whole area of dealing with BSE. I think how the Food and Drug Administration and industry managed it is quite a success story. We learned from Europe and took proactive steps to ensure that it was not a factor in our cattle population in the U.S.
At the same time, the expansion of our Safe Feed/Safe Food Certification Program has been ongoing. The certifications for domestic animal food and pet food are also recognized by the Global Food Safety Initiative. These have also recently been updated to make sure that each of those certified firms are meeting the requirements of the Food Safety Modernization Act.
You talk about key events that sit in your memory. It was all the way back in 2007, when we first learned about melamine being added to gluten feed to artificially raise the protein level. Prior to that, we had not dealt with the intentional changing of feed ingredients. This had a big impact, particularly on the pet food side, and on cats, causing kidney issues. As a result of that, we now have the Foreign Supplier Verification Requirement in the Food Safety Modernization Act group of requirements. As more ingredients are sourced globally, we’re paying a lot more attention to knowing exactly where those ingredients are coming from, the suppliers and their production processes.
Of course, you can’t talk about what’s happened during this period of time without talking about the Food Safety Modernization Act. It’s the largest regulation change since 1950. AFIA staff and members have spent a significant amount of time working through the legislation and the rulemaking process, as well as educating the industry and working with the FDA. We’re now in the implementation stage and are continually working to ensure that the industry is prepared and able to meet the compliance requirements. It’s been a huge undertaking, but I think a very successful one.
WG: What do you consider some of your greatest achievements in your time with the AFIA?
Newman: When I came here, the AFIA was an entirely different organization. We went through a two-year process of redesigning this organization to be a member-driven organization. There was no area of AFIA that was not reviewed and we listened intently to our members. I think we found the right answers. Out of this came our 4 Promises of Member Value: that members have a voice in the process; that they have our representation and expertise available to them; and that they have several opportunities to be engaged. These have not only been the key to our success in sharing the value of the AFIA with our members, but also, it’s our compass for our staff to know where and how to take the AFIA forward.
We also confirmed with members that legislative/regulatory representation was our core role, which it remains today. We’re continuing to see the impact of this redesign even today. We have a stronger, more engaged membership. Our membership has grown to 175% of what it was in 2004. And it brought the association back to a very secure financial position. That was a significant change in the course of the first two years that I was here.
One of the things that I’m particularly proud of is the growth, development and expertise of the AFIA team that we’ve developed. I’d say they’re second to none. A key to this has been maintaining our culture. It’s not just employees and the expertise that they bring, it’s how they believe in our industry and work every day to fulfill our 4 Promises. That’s one of the things that I’m extremely proud of.
In 2009, we celebrated our centennial, and interestingly in that same year we initiated our foundation for the industry – the Institute for Feed Education and Research (IFEEDER). This has allowed us to really play a much stronger role in education and research, which allows us to take on bigger and more strategic initiatives on behalf of the industry. IFEEDER’s success has been an important addition to the AFIA.
The current initiative is ensuring we’re telling the industry’s story about the value, commitment and the high-quality foods that we produce for customers to consumers and policymakers. For too long, by not speaking up, we have let others tell our story for us and most of them are not telling it accurately. We have committed a lot of time and focus to this initiative, not only by ourselves, but in collaboration with other members of the agricultural food industry to more impactfully speak up and reach our audiences in different ways.
WG: What were some of your favorite parts of being involved in the feed industry over the last 15 years?
Newman: You have to appreciate and enjoy the policy work in this position. I enjoy looking at our many successes, how we overcame challenges and the appreciation of our members to our work. The thing that I enjoyed the most by far is the culture where this industry comes together.
In many cases, competitors take off their company hats and put on their industry hats and work diligently to making the industry better.
I have had a chance to work with a number of industry leaders that have made a significant impact on our industry and also to watch a new generation of leaders evolving up through the industry.
It’s really been a great honor to work with these individuals and also develop what I consider truly great friendships, which I hope will continue beyond my retirement.
It has been a significant opportunity to interact with this great industry in a very impactful way.
WG: How will you help smooth the transition to a new leader for the AFIA?
Newman: Our board and our executive committee have put a lot of time and thought into this. They have a very well-defined transition plan that they’ve developed a timeline for. The board has appointed a selection committee to work through the process and bring back a candidate to be my successor. We hired a recruiting firm, Kincannon & Reed, to help through this process.
The board, the executive committee and staff have had a great opportunity to provide input into this process, so they’ve heard their perspectives. We hope to have my successor named and in place by July or August of this year. That will give us several months to work together and for me to contribute to their onboarding, make the right introductions and share some of my years of experience with them.
WG: In a 2017 interview, you discussed the importance of streamlining the approval of new feed ingredients globally. What progress has been made on this issue and what additional work needs to be done?
Newman: We’re making progress. This situation all started with legislation that was passed back in 2007. We were successful in getting the specific language in that previous legislation changed, which relieved some of the problems that were occurring between the FDA and AAFCO (Association of American Feed Control Officials) in the ingredient approval process. That was the starting point, and we did that in conjunction with the FDA. We were working with the FDA on making sure that they have adequate resources dedicated to approving new products in a reasonable period of time, which at the time was close to 24 months. Comparing that to where we are today, it’s taking anywhere from three-to-five years to get products approved. Obviously, we can recognize the need for it; it’s costing our industry $1.75 million a year for products that aren’t being approved.
Now, we are working with the FDA on going through the process to identify bottlenecks that are causing these delays in this process. Whether the bottlenecks are on their part or on the industry’s part, we’re finding solutions to help resolve those.
Longer term, the FDA is actively involved in a new program that the AFIA was instrumental in, along with the Canadian Feed Industry Association and the European Feed Association, and that’s bringing those regulatory bodies and associations together to develop and adopt more consistent risk assessment approaches. The more commonalities we have through the different jurisdictions, the easier it is for the industry to understand how to prepare their submissions, turning it into a more consistent and timely process for everybody.
The FDA has been very actively involved in this, and we’re very encouraged about that. We basically got this model from what the countries had done previously on approvals of veterinarian drugs. We know it works, so we’re now going to apply that to the feed ingredient and additives area.
WG: The use of antibiotics in animal feed was another topic discussed. Where does this issue stand and is this a topic your predecessor will need to address in the years to come?
Newman: We’ve made a lot of progress here in just the last couple of years. Our first focus is to make sure the appropriate drugs are available for farm producers to treat their animals and to keep them healthy. We support judicious use of those, particularly those that are important to human health. That was reinforced by the Veterinarian Feed Directive that we helped write. It’s been very successfully implemented and is moving ahead. As a result of that, antibiotic use in U.S. animal agriculture declined 22% from 1917 and 33% in what’s considered human medically important antibiotics. We’re already seeing benefits of the Veterinarian Feed Directive but also the industry’s focus on the use of antibiotics and the judicious use of those.
Leah Wilkinson (vice-president of public policy and education for the AFIA) is participating in the U.S. delegation to the Codex Task Force on antimicrobial resistance. She’s had an opportunity to travel to South Korea twice already. That task force is probably going to be another two years in the process. We’re there to make sure that the end results are practical guidance for the industry but also that there is a harmonization at the global level, and hopefully those recommendations are the best recommendations. They are going to include tracking both the use and also the resistance of antimicrobials. That will be the longer-term portion of this and is work that will go on for quite a few years.
WG: What are some additional issues your successor will have to address in the future?
Newman: Our board, executive committee and staff all had input into what they felt were the most critical areas of focus for our industry going forward. On top of that list is international trade; that goes along with our industry being a much more global industry. It’s becoming increasingly important, as you see all the trade issues we are dealing with today, with tariffs, trade barriers, etc. We are in a process of expanding our resources in that area and working on addressing trade issues but also opening up new markets and providing input on the negotiations of new trade agreements.
One I already mentioned that is new for us, but certainly of great interest to members is the whole area of education and messaging to consumers and policymakers about our industry. That’s going to remain right up there. Legislative and regulatory impact on our industry will always be on the top of the list.
We are going through industry consolidation; the industry is changing. That consolidation and profitability of the industry in different segments will be a continued focus. More appropriately, how are those changes impacting the industry and how do we as an association need to change and adapt?
The other one is the approval of new technologies, because that is what drives our industry forward. The continuous improvement that we bring is primarily through new technology, so that’s really critical to our ability to help the broader animal protein industry.
One thing that certainly will be carrying forward, and we’ll see more of, is biosecurity and our role in protecting the animal agriculture industry from the threat of spreading animal diseases internationally and domestically. That means how do we make sure the feed industry is not a vector of transmitting these diseases to different places through ingredients, through production plants, transportation, or personnel going from farm to farm. That’s going to be a continuous priority and focus.
WG: Any advice you would give to the AFIA’s next leader? To the industry overall?
Newman: I could boil it down to a couple of things. Keep the members engaged. I think that was one of the single biggest changes we made in 2004 and 2005. At the same time, listening to them because they will share what’s changing in their businesses, and what changes the industry needs to adapt to both domestically and globally. That’s just a tremendous source of information for making sure the AFIA is going in the rightdirection.
We’re part of a much bigger industry. We’re not just part of the agriculture industry, we’re not just part of animal protein production; we’re part of the food industry. That really broadens not only how we impact an industry but how we’re impacted by it. I think the new person coming in here, it really needs to be a catalyst for bringing more collaboration within the food and agriculture chain and making sure we stay close to the customer in that process.
WG: What are your plans for retirement?
Newman: I’m looking forward to doing more of the things I didn’t have time to do because I was committed to my career. That starts with spending more time with my family. I have two young grandchildren, so I want to spend time with them. I’d like to do some volunteering and giving back, which I haven’t been able to do as much of. I want to relax and even do a little bit more golfing.
I am retiring; I’m not planning to go back to work somewhere else. With that said, I would like to find some way to stay involved with the industry in some manner, whether it’s serving on a board for a company within the industry, just something to keep myself in contact with the industry. I’ve spent 48 years here, so it would be hard to just totally walk away; I love the industry too much to do that.