Wednesday, February 21, 2024

Navigating 2024: reflections, resolutions and resilience in the animal feed industry

By Constance Cullman American Feed Industry Association

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ARLINGTON, Va. — Each new year brings a paradox of thought, one that is reflective of the year gone by, and one hopeful for the year to come. While this unique dichotomy often leads to lofty and fleeting personal New Year’s resolutions, it can serve a critical purpose for business leaders looking to reset their strategies to meet their goals.

At the American Feed Industry Association (AFIA), our resolution to make the world healthier through advanced animal nutrition never falters. However, we continue to face hurdles on the legislative, regulatory and trade fronts. These hurdles make it more challenging for animal food manufacturers to deliver on that goal with the products their farmer customers need in a cost-effective, timely and reliable way.

One such example of this is with the regulation of animal food additives that do not impact animal nutrition, but rather, act within an animal’s gut to bring about positive health, production, sustainability, and food safety benefits. One example is extracellular enzymes aiding in feed digestion and reducing waste in poultry production.

Since 1998, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration has deemed these ingredients “drugs” versus “foods,” subjecting them to years of bureaucratic red tape, causing our country to lag farmers in Europe, Brazil, Australia and elsewhere who are already using animal food additives on farms to produce economic and environmental results. Over the past few years, momentum has built within the FDA to modernize its regulatory process, but the agency has said it needs congressional authority to act.

On Capitol Hill sits the solution: the Innovative Feed Enhancement and Economic Development (Innovative FEED) Act (S. 1842/H.R. 6687). Introduced last year, this bill would fix the FDA’s outdated regulatory process by more appropriately regulating these ingredients as feed ingredients so they can get to the marketplace. Though the bill enjoys some bipartisan, bicameral support, lawmakers need to hear from the agricultural community on the reasons why they should support this bill and keep it moving forward.

With the FDA setting its sights on revamping its food safety program this year and the Biden administration focused on reducing food insecurity and U.S. methane emissions, we must leverage the opportunity the year brings before talks of the election cloud substantive work in Congress. The AFIA will focus its efforts on maintaining pressure on lawmakers to move this important legislation through the much-needed farm bill, FDA appropriations or another moving legislative vehicle, and poultry farmers are encouraged to join us in this effort by writing their members of Congress and encouraging passage of the Innovative FEED Act.

On another front, the industry continues to do all it can to reduce animal disease risks and enhance the country’s preparedness and response efforts. With highly pathogenic avian influenza circulating, our feed mills have doubled their biosecurity efforts, and we are taking lessons learned from other research on animal disease spread at mills to improve those efforts even more.

Specifically, this year, the AFIA supports $8 billion in the mandatory farm bill research title to spur scientific breakthroughs and agricultural research that can keep animal diseases at bay. We also continue to support farm bill language that would direct the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to consult with the U.S. Department of Agriculture and FDA on the agricultural applications for the use of formaldehyde, a tool safely used for decades in the animal food industry to reduce animal disease and food safety risks. Without these tools, the animal agriculture

industry will become even more vulnerable — not a place we want to be when hunger is a pressing problem across our communities.

Our industry also continues to express concerns about how the ongoing domestic and international supply chain disruptions, worsened by recent geopolitical tensions across Europe and the Middle East, are raising production costs and, ultimately, impacting farmers’ ability to bring affordable food to the marketplace. To stay ahead of potential challenges, last year, the AFIA started discussions with the Biden administration over the U.S. animal agriculture’s dependency on China for essential vitamins.

Currently, a staggering 94 percent of vitamin B6 and over 91 percent of vitamin C is imported from China, and over 78 percent of all U.S. vitamin imports come from the Asian giant. Equally concerning for our members is the lack of alternative suppliers.

Poultry farmers know that healthy birds to produce eggs and meat cannot be raised without vitamins, particularly B12, which are present in poultry diets. And, as consumers turn to more chicken and eggs for affordable and nutritious protein for their families, we must do all we can to support the resiliency of our food supply.

The animal food industry has delicately been sounding the alarm to the Biden administration on the need to vary the United States’ sources of vitamins. Potential solutions include, but are not limited to, investing in domestic vitamin production, engaging in public-private partnerships, or exploring other countries’ vitamin production capabilities. With our members, the AFIA continues to communicate this message in meetings with representatives from the USDA, the U.S. Trade Representative, and other interagency supply chain task forces, and encourages poultry farmers to leverage in-district meetings with their legislators this year to put this critical issue on their radars.

The AFIA is already off to a running start on these and many other to-do’s this year. While we know we have mountains to climb, our resolve to make the world a healthier place through animal nutrition remains steadfast.

Constance Cullman is president and CEO of the American Feed Industry Association headquartered in Arlington, Va.

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