“In 2016, there were 250 attendees at the Pet Food Conference,” said Leah Wilkinson, vice-president of legislative, regulatory and state affairs for the AFIA. “This year’s conference, with 365 registered attendees, tops the record books as the largest yet.”
The Pet Food Conference is one of three AFIA-sponsored events at IPPE. It is designed to inform pet food representatives about the latest industry initiatives, and included speakers from government entities, private companies and universities.
Attendees heard from a panel on environmental monitoring in pet food safety programs, as well as eight individuals. Melissa Brookshire discussed the need for transparency with pet food customers during her presentation, “Making Pet Food for Today’s Discerning Customer.”
“A pet food manufacturer today needs to balance the nutritional requirements of the animal, conducting sustainable operations and the needs and wants of the consumer,” Brookshire said. “It can be done, but it takes some focus and attention.”
The Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA) was a high-priority topic. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s (FDA) Jenny Murphy said the agency’s inspection mindset is to educate before regulating when it comes to FSMA.
“FSMA puts control in the facility’s hands,” Murphy said. “Take responsibility, go beyond basic requirements in your quality and food safety programs.”
Another lively topic was “Developing the Next Generation of Pet Food Employees.” A U.S. Department of Agriculture/Purdue University study reported there is a need for nearly 60,000 high-skilled employees in the food and agriculture arenas between 2015-20. Jessica Starkey, an assistant professor at Auburn University, said education about careers in agriculture starts with teachers in the United States.
“Educating the educator on the pet food industry will help us share information with students looking for careers in agriculture,” Starkey said. “The students are there, we just need to connect to industry.”
Other topics included: industry trends, trade, extrusion of grain-free pet foods, and research and AAFCO updates.