WASHINGTON — Normal, traditional, typical — None of those terms apply to the past 18-plus months. A year has made a significant difference in the public health situation as vaccines have become more widely available and we continue to learn more about how to stop the spread of COVID. However, we have yet to get fully back to the pre-pandemic life. Nevertheless, the lessons learned in 2020 have shaped the turkey industry’s ability to adeptly navigate the new realities of our business. This is particularly on display as National Turkey Federation members continue their all-out efforts to fulfill the turkey industry’s mission of supplying safe, nutritious protein for consumers.
While NTF members have responded to every new challenge thrown at them, the lingering effects of the pandemic continue to reverberate throughout the supply chain. Labor availability issues that were a problem before we’d ever heard of COVID remain an issue today. Transportation backlogs and access to other materials integral to processing have been experienced with some frequency. Rising feed costs have also been a concern this year. It’s true that no industry is immune from these problems — the loop of stories on the evening news proves that. But the approaching holiday season and increased attention from the media, as well as the administration’s focus on the supply chain, have put food and agriculture producers in the spotlight.
It’s clear that this Thanksgiving will be unique unto itself. We won’t see holiday celebrations quite as restricted as we did in 2020, but this Thanksgiving also will not look like 2019. As families plan how they will celebrate, the turkey industry is working to navigate these realities to make sure turkeys are available. Planning ahead for the meal, and some flexibilities are encouraged, but we are confident that consumers will be able to purchase turkey products for the holidays no matter the size or format of their gathering. NTF has once again prepared resources for novice cooks and veterans alike to tackle whole turkeys, various cuts, and the leftovers we love. Visit NTF online at https://www.eatturkey.org.
There is no doubt that the next few months will prove extremely interesting as the turkey industry adapts to shifting market conditions and continues to work towards balance. However, that is not all that’s on our proverbial plates at NTF. The federation has also been focused on addressing numerous other challenges faced by the industry. We know that topics such as food safety and sustainability affect everyone involved in turkey production, and NTF remains committed to these efforts.
Food safety in focus
Producing safe, wholesome, and nutritious turkey for consumers to enjoy is the number-one priority for the U.S. turkey industry. That is why NTF members are well-positioned to respond to USDA’s Salmonella initiative announced in mid-October by Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack. USDA has emphasized this new approach will focus on collaboration with stakeholders as data is gathered across all phases of production and processing to determine effective ways to reduce Salmonella illnesses. As more information on USDA’s process is made available, NTF members will seek opportunities to be involved.
Turkey producers and processors have a long history of sharing ideas and supporting research on the most effective ways to reduce Salmonella and other pathogens throughout the turkey supply chain that may cause foodborne illnesses. This includes hosting forums for members to discuss specific food safety practices and technologies that could potentially be beneficial such as Salmonella vaccines, feed additives and ingredients and bacteriophages. NTF has also facilitated meetings with the USDA Agricultural Research Service to examine needs related to better understanding Salmonella reduction opportunities. In recent years, the industry’s focus on reducing Salmonella has only increased, and NTF is actively working to advance industry-wide efforts to further enhance food safety.
A sustainable future
Sustainability within the food supply has been one of the biggest themes of 2021, underscored by steadily growing consumer interest in food production and the supply chain issues already mentioned. It is more important than ever that agriculture and food production highlights our role in solving the hunger challenges our growing world will face. Like others in the food and agriculture sector, the turkey industry focuses on sustainability daily, and NTF is constantly reviewing our policies to align with industry standards and practices. Anyone in the business of raising turkeys knows that you must be sustainable to keep the lights on. Turkey growers and processors are always looking for new and better ways to improve operations, whether its solar power, packaging solutions or recycling water.
As a member of the U.S. Roundtable for Sustainable Poultry and Eggs (US-RSPE), NTF is part of the efforts to develop a Sustainability Framework for the poultry industry. This framework will serve as a valuable tool to help the industry effectively measure sustainability within the supply chain and communicate with customers and consumers. NTF has also been engaged in dialogue around the United Nations Food System Summit. While the summit took place in September, the outcomes of this global debate have the potential to affect U.S. food policy well into the future. NTF supports a food system that allows countries and producers the flexibility to identify the best way to sustainably produce, attain and maintain a safe, affordable, accessible, and healthy food supply. NTF has already signaled support for the Coalition on Sustainable Productivity Growth for Food Security and Resource Conservation, which the U.S. launched at the summit. NTF will remain active on this important issue as it moves forward.
Time to Be thankful
Our people are the turkey industry’s greatest asset. We are especially thankful for them this Thanksgiving. It comes as no surprise to the NTF team that our members have continuously risen to meet the challenges presented.
The hard work and dedication of the men and women on the farm, in the plant and everywhere in between who play a role in the production, processing and delivery of turkey products is how our industry has shown such resiliency and how we will continue to navigate the challenges and stay the course.
Joel Brandenberger is president of the National Turkey Federation.