Resolving Conflicts and Reaping Benefits

By Tom Cook, President, National Renderers Association

By the time you get this issue of Render magazine, January will have come and gone, New Year’s resolutions will have been broken, and confusion and indecision will still prevail in the United States (US) capital. Since I don’t want to deal with the last item, please read Steve Kopperud’s column on page 6 for his take on what is going on in Washington, DC.

The National Renderers Association (NRA) and the rendering industry finished 2012 in a positive position. Trade associations service their members in many ways. For NRA, the focus is on government relations, trade, scientific services, public relations, and member services. Although 2012 was a busy year, results are sometimes hard to measure. NRA really doesn’t have a bottom line like its members. The association is not measured in dollars and cents or sales, so it is often difficult to quantify real tangible results, but as NRA strives to represent the rendering industry in a positive light with the public, the media, and elected and government officials, the hope is to provide a better business climate for its members.

This is done every day by the NRA leadership and staff. For whatever reasons, the rendering industry has become more visible to the public in recent years. It could be because of bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE). The industry has weathered a many-year storm over BSE and I’m not saying the storm is over – there are still some aftershocks to deal with – but over the last 15-plus years, rendering has been generally recognized by the media as a responsible industry. Press and media inquiries have resulted in more positive coverage than negative.

NRA received numerous media inquiries last year for various reasons, from BSE and grease theft to local issues in a particular city or state. I am surprised how many of the reporters had already gone to the NRA website before calling. Most of the reporters knew little or nothing about the rendering industry and were genial and inquisitive. By the time we end our call, I get the distinct impression they generally have an enlightened and positive understanding of the rendering industry. It really isn’t because I am good at informing them, it is more because we have such a positive story to tell.

Trade is another area where NRA is at work. Since BSE, the hard work to regain foreign markets for rendered products continues, but we are making progress. However, two areas where frustration sometimes takes over in NRA’s ability to gain access is tallow to the European Union (EU) for biodiesel purposes and regaining a lost market for meat and bone meal in Indonesia.

Even sound science and logic doesn’t seem to move the needle in the direction of opening the EU market. There are trade negotiators at the highest levels in government on the rendering industry’s side. In fact, after visiting with officials at the US Trade Representative office and the US Department of Agriculture (USDA), tallow to the EU has become a top burner issue in negotiations for a Free Trade Agreement. Negotiators contend that if we can’t solve something as simple as this, we are not going to be able to progress on much else.

In May 2012, an atypical case of BSE was detected in California. The US government took all the necessary steps to assure trading partners the case was atypical and that the US cattle herd and food supply were safe. The assurances satisfied most trading partners, except for Indonesia.

The export market for meat and bone meal to Indonesia was halted. In recent years, this market had grown to be quite significant for US renderers who export. Now, nine months later, NRA has been unable to reopen this market. It isn’t because we haven’t tried, but it appears the situation is the victim of an internal political debate. Trade agreements, government and industry delegations to Indonesia, demand for US product, and scientific assurances of the safety of the product don’t seem to have much influence until the political infighting gets resolved.

Speaking of NRA leadership, Chairman J.J. Smith was recently invited to address a group at USDA on the role of the rendering industry and its relevance to local/regional meat production. The audience of 30 to 40 people was the USDA Know Your Famer, Know Your Food Task Force, all USDA employees representing numerous agencies assigned with the implementation of the initiative. The Know Your Farmer, Know Your Food initiative was organized by the current administration and led by USDA Deputy Secretary Kathleen Merrigan, one of the pioneers in the organic food movement. She understands the importance of the rendering industry and wants the task force members to get a better understanding and appreciation of it as well.

Smith did an excellent job of presenting the rendering industry to this group, making them aware of the size and scope of the industry. In doing so, he also related that doing business locally was an important ingredient to a renderer’s business.

This is not the type of audience I would typically be attracted to on first blush. My initial reaction was that renderers today operate on a larger scale that would not meet their needs. However, Smith put it all into perspective and brought a real appreciation to the industry. This is one of those cases where I am not sure what the tangible result might be, but it was an audience we want saying positive things about the rendering industry. You never know where you might reap benefits.

February 2013 RENDER | back