ATLANTA, GEORGIA, U.S. — The day-long annual Pet Food Conference, which was part of the International Production and Processing Expo (IPPE) in Atlanta, Georgia, U.S. on Jan. 29-31, featured a variety of experts discussing topics impacting today’s pet food and pet food ingredient manufacturer.
The Pet Food Conference was hosted by the American Feed Industry Association (AFIA) and the Poultry Protein & Fat Council.
Key speakers included individuals from the Center of Disease Control, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), the Association of American Feed Control Officials (AAFCO) and the American Meat Institute, among others.
One of the featured speakers was Dr. Dan McChesney, director, Office of Surveillance and Compliance, Center for Veterinary Medicine, at the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. As he did at the 2012 conference, McChesney gave a detailed update on the Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA) and the upcoming pet food rules, expected to be published this month. 
“This is landmark legislation both on the human side but even more so on the pet food side,” he said.
The key aspects to establishing these proposed food safety rules are to: 1) Confirm industry’s primary role in food safety; 2) Be risk-based and flexible; 3) Address small business issues; 4) Include extensive government and stakeholder input.
McChesney also explained in great detail the proposed differences in the human food rules between small and very small businesses. As proposed, a small business would have less than 500 employees and will have two years to comply after the rule is published. A very small business, which FDA will define based upon total sales volume of either under $250,000, $500,000 or $1,000,000 will have three years to become compliant.
According to the Food Sector Report, of the 4,461 estimated pet food and animal nutrition feed firms, 4,439 met the definition of a small business but produced almost 87 percent of manufactured pet food and animal feed based on sales. Only three firms qualified as “very small.”
As a whole, the industry is adjusting well to the anticipated new food safety regulations. 
“Firms are doing a good job improving detection methods and quality control. That’s a plus,” McChesney said.
Another highlight from the Pet Food Conference was the third-party certification panel, which featured Keith Epperson, vice-president of manufacturing and training, AFIA; Josey Byrne, certification manager, Eurofins Scientific; and Henry Turlington, quality and food safety director, The Nutro Company. Epperson and Byrne detailed the AFIA facility certification process – Pet Food Manufacturing Facility Certification Program, while Turlington detailed the process from the applicant’s experience.
“It’s exciting to be the first certified,” Turlington said. “Nutro’s certification was received in a positive manner by our customer base.”
According to Byrne, after applications are submitted to AFIA, Eurofins assess whether a firm is ready for an audit. The assessment is followed by pairing the firm with a geographically sound auditor. Once the audit has been completed (normally 30-60 days post application submission) and all criteria met, the certification is issued.
For his part, Turlington recommended a gap assessment as a key component. “You need to understand the requirements before you start.”
One of the most popular sessions at the Pet Food Conference was Post California Prop 37 – What Now?, presented by Ab Basu, managing director of state affairs at Biotechnology Industry Organization. 
The measure appeared on California’s 2012 ballot last November and would have required genetically engineered food to be prominently labeled, while alcohol, dairy, meat and restaurant food were exempted. Seen by many as an anti-biotech campaign that consisted of misinformation, scare tactics and unknown legal liability, the measure was defeated 51.5% to 48.5%, with a difference of 400,000 votes.
As Basu explained, three dozen bills were introduced and defeated in state legislatures in 2011 and 2012. Similar initiatives and legislation are expected in at least 27 states in 2013.
“Over the last three years, we’ve seen a concerted, well-funded effort against biotech,” Basu said. “These campaigns have resulted in BIO working together with AFIA and food companies to make sure harmful and non-scientific policy doesn’t pass.”
The American Meat Institute, new to the AFIA and USPOULTRY Expo partnership in 2013, also participated in the Pet Food Conference. Janet Riley, AMI’s senior vice-president of
public affairs and member service, detailed the crisis communication strategy during last year’s lean finely textured beef scare. 
As Riley explained, a variety of factors contributed to the national uproar. These factors included the star power given by famous chefs which was then followed suit by national media, combined with the fact that the initial story involved school lunches and that it was “highly tweetable” with the hashtag #pinkslime. 
“Consumers are expecting transparency; otherwise, they will think you are hiding something,” said Riley. 
Last year’s Pet Food Conference attracted more than 200 attendees. The 2013 Pet Food Conference increased participation by 25%. 
The 2013 International Feed Expo was co-located with USPOULTRY’s International Poultry Expo and the American Meat Institute’s International Meat Expo into a single, large tradeshow.