So Long, Farewell

By Tom Cook, President, National Renderers Association

Since I began working for the National Renderers Association (NRA) in 1997, I have written five columns every year for Render magazine. Every time I knew a deadline was coming, thanks to the editor’s friendly reminders, I usually procrastinated until the last minute. This was in part because I couldn’t decide what to write about. Unfortunately, some of my columns showed it, but, overall, I was glad to have the opportunity to communicate with the readers about NRA.

I am procrastinating this time for a different reason: this is my last column. I notified the NRA leadership at its spring meetings of my plans to retire at the end of this year.

The past 16-plus years serving as NRA president have been one of the most rewarding experiences of my life. When I was approached for this job, I thought I knew a little about the rendering industry, although I had never met a renderer. I soon found out that I had a lot to learn. Fortunately, I had many good teachers.

I also discovered I was not just taking on a new job but joining a very important and dynamic industry that not many people know much about. When I told my friends of my new opportunity, many of them turned up their noses and wondered why I would go with such an unglamorous industry. Oh, what little did they know!

NRA was an association with a lot of tradition and history when I joined it in 1997. It was also in the middle of a major crisis. Bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE) was about to change the industry forever. I came on board just as the final feed rule from the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) was published. Most of the heavy lifting had already been done in the developing of the final rule, but I was able to see what had been accomplished. I saw an industry drawn together in a crisis react to a major threat.

It was a time when not many people knew much about rendering so industry leaders knew they had work to do. NRA leadership, members, and others were able to develop a plan, build a war chest, and move forward. Particularly impressive was the credibility NRA established with regulators and decision makers at FDA. Regulators usually take an arms-length position with industries they regulate and FDA was no exception. However, in this case, they were faced with writing rules for an industry they didn’t know much about and didn’t know where to go to get the information needed.

What developed was a working relationship between industry and government that worked to the benefit of both. A third party was found to do a white paper on the rendering industry with renderers providing their input to the report. It was backed up with facts, figures, and first-hand experiences in the rendering industry.

The final rule wasn’t perfect, but the industry had its input, averting a very unreasonable rule. NRA has had a few skirmishes with FDA since, but its working relationship has remained open and good.

With the final rule complete, there was a need to make sure the industry took it seriously and abided by it. NRA invited FDA to a meeting of renderers to explain the rule and answer questions, the first time FDA had ever been invited by the regulated industry to do this. I am pleased to have been part of an industry that has had one of the highest regulation compliance rates in the history of FDA.

Many lessons were learned from the BSE threat and NRA was able to prepare itself for the eventual discovery of the disease in the United States. Renderers cooperated with the most comprehensive surveillance program in the history of the United States Department of Agriculture.

NRA conducted seminars around the country for renderers to better prepare them in dealing with their local communities, the public, the media, and their public officials. The industry knew there needed to be a greater presence in Washington, DC, so NRA officers traveled to Washington to meet with key government officials, the presidential administration, and Congress. NRA organized a BSE coalition of like-minded organizations to keep everyone better informed.

The association has hosted 12 annual Washington Fly-ins since 2002. Every year, around 30 members travel to Washington for three days to visit members of Congress, with over 100 offices visited each year. The dividends from these visits have paid off many times over.

NRA continues to work hard to get the industry’s presence known to the important audiences. The media calls I get now are almost always positive. The reporter has usually checked out the NRA website and some have looked at the new video before calling. They understand that without the positive benefits of rendering there could be serious disposal issues of the materials rendered.

I’ve mentioned only a few of the activities that have occurred in the last 16 years at NRA. There have been victories on our issues in Congress. The association’s international program is strong and the conventions are the best. NRA and the Animal Protein Producers Industry have joined forces, NRA and the Fats and Proteins Research Foundation are in the same office working together, and Render magazine is now recognized internationally for its excellence.

It is dangerous to start thanking individuals and perhaps miss someone. However, I do want to recognize the past chairmen who I have served with. Each of them brought their own style of leadership to the position and all were very supportive in helping to keep me on track in meeting the wishes of NRA members. They were: Mike Koewler, David Evans, Mike Langenhorst, Humphry Koch, Doug Anderson, David Kaluzny II, Michael Koewler, Kevin Golding, and J.J. Smith. I want to thank them for their support and friendship.

All of the above was accomplished because of strong member and leadership support, and a hardworking and dedicated staff and consultants.

My wife Judy and I do not know exactly what we will do in our retirement, but we will keep busy and hope to see our renderer friends in our travels.

I am leaving NRA proud to have been associated with so many wonderful people that I will always consider best friends. Thank you very much.

October 2013 RENDER | back