American Feed Industry Association (AFIA) President and CEO Joel Newman will retire this year after 15 years of service. Reflecting on his career and the current state of the animal feed industry, Newman offers global feed industry stakeholders tips for navigating the future of feed.
Connectedness and the consumer
During his tenure, Newman led AFIA and its members through two major feed industry issues: the feed safety changes set into motion by the Bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE) scare and the melamine crisis in the mid-aughts; and the major regulatory shift imposed by the Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA). However, he cites the evolution of communication to be one of the most monumental changes to shape the animal feed industry, specifically as it relates to technology, connectedness and how information is disseminated.
He feels the social media boon specifically has been a “huge change factor” for agribusiness.
“The overall speed in what I call ‘the non-editing of information’ that comes out through these channels now, the expectation for all of us to respond, has changed our lives in some good ways, but also in some ways with bigger consequences,” he says.
For example, public opinion regarding the health and environmental impact of animal protein production is often driven by inaccurate information, which happens to benefit plant-based diets and related protein alternatives.
“The broader agricultural food industry needs to break down barriers, set aside its pride and collaboratively join forces in overcoming a wave of consumer questions about the value of animal protein in diets,” Newman says.
The environmental impact of animal agriculture is relatively limited when compared with other industries – and strides are continually made to reduce agriculture’s footprint through the adoption of new technologies and best practices, of which many consumers are unaware.
“We have the data to back all this up, we have the information to share that story, but [agriculture] needs to come together to make a much bigger effort collaboratively to really do it impactfully,” he says.
Newman notes an example of successful industry collaboration: the formation of a stakeholder coalition to develop a united strategy and consistent messaging to dispel the misleading information and impractical recommendations of the EAT-Lancet report.
“It has been very impactful with many audiences,” Newman reports. “It’s a great example of the collaboration that can happen and what needs to happen more often.”
Telling agriculture’s story
He believes the various agribusiness sectors must work together to tell agriculture’s story in ways that appeal to consumer values.
“I honestly feel that the greatest opportunity moving forward is bringing the broader industry together to very transparently answer consumer questions and concerns – so they understand how their food is raised – and share the value of animal protein so it’s a choice [consumers] feel good about making,” he says.
Newman stresses that these efforts must occur on a global scale.
“This is a very critical opportunity, not only for growth, but for maintaining our industry position because we need to make sure that the true story is out there,” he says. “In their own terms, consumers need to understand the nutritional value of animal protein, as all proteins are not equal, and the job we are doing in protecting the health of our planet, so that they can make the best choices for themselves.”
Growth opportunities overseas
In Newman’s opinion, the promise of U.S. feed industry expansion lies with successful international trade.
“The growth of our industry is reliant on the extension of global trade,” he says. “AFIA is committed to helping our members with new trade opportunities, asking for changes in our trade terms where they are not competitive, and participating in the negotiating process for new trade agreements.”
To achieve this, he feels the U.S. feed industry must aggressively engage with the Trump administration and resolve the trade disputes.
The association has added additional resources for the negotiation the new trade agreements and to address non-trade barriers.
Final thoughts, advice to his successor
Newman offers his successor this advice:
- Listen to AFIA members: Members provide insights into changes in their business and offer a true sense of what’s happening in the industry, both domestically and globally.
“They are a tremendous source of information and ensure that AFIA is focused in the right direction and stays ahead of those changes,” he says.
- Remember animal feed is part of the food system: The animal feed industry is not just part of the agriculture industry or animal production, it’s part of human food production.
“This broadens how we can impact the food industry, but also how that industry is going to impact us,” he says. “I really would encourage my successor to be a catalyst for bringing more collaboration within the food and agriculture chain and making sure that we stay close to the customer in the process.”
Newman feels fortunate to have worked with stakeholders who work very diligently together for the better of the industry, and are sincerely concerned with the future of the feed industry beyond just their individual companies.
“It has just been a tremendous pleasure to work in this role, with this industry and with the people I’ve had the chance to work with,” he says.