By Constance Cullman
American Feed Industry Association
Special to Poultry Times
ARLINGTON, Va. — Last year started like any other year, with a sense of optimism about new ingredients in the pipeline that will promote better animal nutrition and health, potential trading opportunities abroad and new corporate commitments to sustainability.
The coronavirus changed all of that, forcing us to focus less on what we could do and more on what we needed to do. While 2020 may not have been the year we hoped it would be, it certainly gave us time to reflect and “reset” for 2021.
The U.S. animal food industry has responded remarkably well to the coronavirus pandemic, making the necessary procedural and structural changes to keep the sector’s 944,000 employees safe. The American Feed Industry Association (AFIA) has been working to ensure that leaders at the local, state and national levels understand our essential businesses, allowing our members to continue meeting their customers’ needs for feed and pet food and keeping food staples stocked on grocery store shelves.
Although we adapted to the new way of doing business, the pandemic further exposed the rural divide. The high-speed internet that Silicon Valley businesses enjoy that has enabled them to allow their employees to work remotely and keep their businesses afloat during this tumultuous time is lacking in rural America, where one in four people do not have access to this critical service. This has also been challenging for many of our nearly 700 members to meet virtually with their customers and suppliers or conduct their normal business operations. Not only that, America’s infrastructure — from railways to bridges to roads — is crumbling, making it difficult to continue supplying products from coast-to-coast.
The AFIA will spend 2021 working in concert with other agricultural coalitions to advocate for federal policies that promote the long-term economic viability of the U.S. agricultural sector and provide solutions to address gaps in our food supply system.
With the upcoming inauguration of Joseph Biden Jr., as the 46th president of the United States, we expect the regulatory landscape for our industry to shift. Much like former President Barack Obama’s administration, which brought about the most sweeping food safety change in modern U.S. history with the enactment of the Food Safety Modernization Act, Biden has indicated his support for improving the U.S. food safety system and addressing climate change. The U.S. animal food industry will urge the Biden administration to seek only science- and risk-based regulations that address real animal food safety threats and will seek to deliver solutions to the country’s climate change challenges.
Our members are working hard to bring new technologies to the marketplace that allow the animal agriculture industry to use antibiotics more judiciously and reduce the industry’s greenhouse gas footprint. Unfortunately, our international counterparts continue to outpace us because the U.S. Food and Drug Administration does not have a mechanism in place to bring many of these products to market with appropriate labeling. Given our research and innovation in animal nutrition and metabolic processes continues to quickly progress, it is only fitting that our regulatory system should evolve too. The AFIA will continue calling for the FDA to give the necessary resources to review novel ingredients in an expeditious way and make the necessary policy changes to ensure they can be marketed appropriately to the customers we serve.
Our members’ customers — farmers and ranchers across the country — also depend on our support in mitigating animal disease risks through feed. As we have seen with COVID-19, an epidemic can quickly become a pandemic without adequate mitigation strategies in place. Keeping our products moving in the marketplace through trade is critical. We commend the Trump administration for ushering several agreements across the finish line, including the U.S.-Mexico-Canada Agreement and China phase one trade agreement. Though it may have been a bumpy road getting there, I believe that these agreements will be viewed as long-term success stories, allowing us to negotiate more modernized agreements in the future that are science-based, innovative and are respectful of intellectual property.
We are already seeing the benefits of China buying more pet food for its burgeoning pet food market. Pet food exports to China have increased over 200 percent, standing at just over $11 million at the end of 2019 to more than $28.5 million by late 2020. This growth is in part due to the phase one agreement, which has allowed more products containing poultry ingredients to be imported into China. It is also attributed to the agreement between China and the U.S. on regionalization protocols, which permits each country to manage an outbreak of highly pathogenic avian influenza (HPAI) on a regional basis, allowing products from unaffected regions to continue to flow and giving U.S. exporters more market stability.
The positive goodwill also opens doors for opportunities in other areas of the South-Pacific, including Vietnam, which boasts one of the fastest growing economies in Asia with three decades of more than 6 percent annual gross domestic product growth. In that same period, Vietnam has risen from a food shortage situation to one of food abundance, with rising demand for animal protein and has become an area where our industry is pursuing market access.
Biden has stated his intentions to work with our allies to negotiate, or renegotiate, trade agreements that ensure our country’s manufacturers have a place in the global trading marketplace. The AFIA would like to see the United States continue pursuing free trade agreements with the European Union and the United Kingdom, which are “full in scope,” meaning they include agriculture, remove arduous, non-scientific barriers, and support risk-based regulations and decision-making and the removal of tariffs. The association is also looking at new areas of the world, including Kenya, with its marketplace that is ripe for the high-quality technologies and regulatory expertise the U.S. feed industry has to offer. To achieve any of this, the Trade Promotion Authority will need to be reauthorized by Congress in the first half of 2021.
2020 may have changed our way of conducting business, but it did not change our vision of being global leaders in animal food nutrition. As we start 2021, I am confident the animal food industry will handle any challenges we face to deliver on the essentials and is primed to move forward writing our next chapter as innovators.
Constance Cullman is president and CEO of the American Feed Industry Association.