Founders Laid a Solid Foundation for
Current Organization

By Tom Cook, President, National Renderers Association

These are exciting times for the rendering industry and the National Renderers Association (NRA). Renderers are enjoying the best markets they can remember and the NRA is commemorating its 75th anniversary at its annual convention this month in Laguna Niguel, CA. We anticipate an excellent turnout.

It has been interesting preparing for the convention. Looking at old photos and reading accounts of NRA and industry activities over the past 75 to 100 years confirms our belief that the association has a rich heritage. The founders laid a solid foundation for the current membership. We don’t plan to get bogged down with too much history and nostalgia at the convention, but enough to be reminded that we owe a debt of gratitude to the early pioneers of the rendering industry. We will look with pride at our accomplishments as an organization.

It wasn’t too many years ago when NRA boasted a membership in the 100s. Rendering companies were everywhere and regional meetings would draw 400 to 500 people or more.

Those were the good old days, according to some. But, in time, the industry did what others were forced to do and consolidated. The nature of the industry, new technologies, and economies of scale brought about this consolidation. While most of it was done by the mid to late 1980s, some of it still occurs today. NRA is currently an organization of about 50 member companies throughout the United States and Canada, representing over 90 percent of the rendering capacity in North America. The membership includes most of the packer renderers as well as most of the independent renderers. Some member companies can boast up to five generations of family ownership and management.

The NRA has changed in recent years. In the mid-1980s, the organization moved its headquarters from Chicago, IL, to Washington, DC. The membership recognized the need to be closer to the nation’s capitol in order to better represent renderers on the numerous government-related issues. Upon moving to Washington, the NRA was managed by an association management company. This is where one company contracts with numerous associations to manage their affairs. This worked for about eight years. However, over time, the leadership and members became disenchanted, believing that the organization’s identity and industry traditions and values were being diluted.

The NRA was reestablished on its own in 1993 in Alexandria, VA. This was the beginning of the NRA as we know it today and it couldn’t have happened any too soon. The industry was about to face its biggest challenge for survival: bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE), or what the media calls “mad cow disease.”

From this challenge came a much stronger and united association. Early on, BSE was associated with the feeding of ruminant meat and bone meal. In 1996, scientists associated BSE with a variant form of the human disease Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease. This finding was about to bring a full-blown assault on the rendering industry. Renderers who are known for their independence and competitiveness recognized the urgent need to put their differences aside and work for the good of the entire industry.

Renderers convened to develop a strategy and war chest and took their case to the Food and Drug Administration, which was contemplating severe restrictions on the industry. Much has been written about BSE and the rendering industry since.

This situation illustrates how strong associations can work. In times of crisis, the membership comes together and strives for the common good of the industry. Good associations are there to do for the members collectively what they cannot do for themselves individually. The BSE crisis reenergized the NRA.

The association now focuses on a few priorities and does not try to cover the entire waterfront. It recognizes that members can, likewise, do certain things themselves better than what the association can do for them.

First and foremost, the NRA recognizes the importance of representing the industry in the regulatory and legislative arena. The experience with the feed rule of 1997 was a text book story of how to build credibility with a federal agency and to work cooperatively to develop workable regulations.

Other examples where the NRA has succeeded in recent years include securing Environmental Protection Agency guidelines for burning rendered fats, fighting for and receiving equity with other feedstocks that receive government incentives for the production of alternative fuels, and conducting eight successful Washington fly-ins.

The NRA International Market Development Committee continues to work diligently to expand existing and open new markets for rendered products. This has been more difficult in recent years because of BSE. However, progress is being made. We continue to have an excellent cooperator relationship with the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Foreign Agricultural Service and receive funding to assist our export efforts. Aquaculture is a relatively new and exciting market for rendered products as we look to the future.

The NRA provides a strong scientific services program that is essential in providing the industry the necessary back-up to present the industry’s case in the public policy and public relations area. The merger of the Animal Protein Producers Industry with the NRA has strengthened this program immensely.

In recent years the association has established closer ties with the Fats and Proteins Research Foundation, with that organization now located in the NRA headquarters office.

It is certain that with all of the association’s recent activities, the rendering industry is no longer the “invisible industry.” Our image is good because we have a positive story to tell. We truly are the original recyclers.

I don’t imagine the founders of the NRA 75 years ago could foresee what the organization would be like today. However, they laid a solid foundation that has allowed the NRA to adapt to meet the industry’s needs.

I am confident that the leaders of today will continue the traditions of the organization to make it a better organization for future renderers.

From the Association – October 2008 RENDER | back