The animal protein industry has a lot of good stories to share. Around 800,000 people in the United States work in meat and poultry processing. Every American farm produces enough food to feed around 165 people. More than 40% of animal feed ingredients are left over from making human food. The US dairy industry has committed to be carbon neutral or better by 2050.
But stories alone don’t build trust.
“I think if you boil it down, the industry has for decades been facing a lack of trust,” said David Miniat, chief executive officer and chairman of the board of Miniat Holdings LLC and executive board member of the North American Meat Institute (NAMI).
“We are great at doing the right thing, as an industry – we have done so for a long time. And we have done a lot of work on telling our story,” said Eric Mittenthal, chief strategy officer for NAMI. “The part that has been missing, that’s crucial in earning trust, is proving it.”
NAMI’s newest initiative – the Protein PACT – is setting out to provide the necessary proof to secure and sustain consumer trust in the animal protein industry. PACT represents the People, Animals and Climate of Tomorrow.
“The Protein PACT is about the proof,” Mittenthal said. “We have set out to determine how we can prove our successes, and how that can feed into an industrywide story telling effort that demonstrates that proof.”
In short, the goal of the Protein PACT is to “build trust through a commitment to continuous improvement that demonstrates shared values with consumers, customers and investors.”
The Protein PACT is a vision that’s been years in the making. In 2018, at a NAMI Executive Board meeting in Toronto a discussion was had about current and future industry challenges, and ways to address them.
“Several of our executive board member CEOs spoke up and said we need to rethink how, as an industry, we are focusing on these issues and take a more proactive approach than we historically have,” Mittenthal said. “Historically we had been very defensive. We’d been mostly there to deflect issues and not to tackle them head on.”
NAMI’s executive leadership demanded a new, more proactive approach to show how the industry is addressing the issues consumers are concerned with.
“I believe our leadership in our industry in the past used to deny issues we were having,” Miniat said. “Now they’re saying, ‘we’ve got nothing to be ashamed of.’ We’ve done a lot of good work over the years in making improvements in our industry. We’re not perfect, but we have good things to share.”
This directive led to the creation of a task force – made up of NAMI members, many of which were already sustainability leaders in the industry.
“We asked ourselves, ‘What approach do we need to take to be more proactive? What are the key issues consumers are most interested in that we need to be more proactive in addressing? How do we become less defensive as an industry and embrace changes, as an industry, that align with what consumers expect from the industry?’” Mittenthal said.
The task force began to develop a framework to decide what animal protein industry issues were important to consumers, how the industry is addressing these issues now, ways the industry can address the issues in the future and how the industry can measure the steps it’s taking to show continued progress.
First the task force identified issue focus areas, that were once called pillars – Animal Care, Environment and the Planet, Food Safety, Health and Wellness and Labor and Human Rights.
“We first conceptualized these categories as pillars, but consumers don’t think about animal welfare, environmental impact, food safety, nutrition, labor and human rights as individual pillars on their plate – they consider them all weaved together,” Mittenthal explained. “Moving the needle on one issue like animal welfare improves the perception of food safety. If we improve consumer perception on environmental impact, it also improves perception on worker safety. They all tie together – they are very much intertwined.”
Next, the group identified “bold goals” for each of the key focus areas. These are statements of ambition – some of which are not necessarily easily achieved, Mittenthal said.
Animal Care – Design and universally adhere to a globally accepted and outcome-based standard for animal welfare at all points in the supply chain.
Environment and the planet – Lead the global animal protein industry by establishing a transparent blueprint for minimizing environmental impacts on land, air and water.
Food safety – The meat and poultry supply chain produces safe meat products, without exception.
Health and wellness – Animal protein is recognized as the leading source of high-quality protein and essential contributor to nutrition, health and wellness.
Labor and human rights – Be an employer of choice through an unyielding commitment to diversity, inclusion, employee occupational health and safety and human rights.
Next, 22 indicators were identified outlining what actions and activities needed to be measured under each category.
“We are looking for measures of things that we can advance and improve on over the next decade,” Mittenthal said.
“We’re letting our performance tell our story,” Miniat added. “We’re holding ourselves accountable.”
Most of the time over the past year and a half has been spent on identifying what indicators need to be measured. The committee got feedback from various sources including external stakeholders and retail and foodservice NGOs (non-governmental organizations) like the World Wildlife Fund and The Nature Conservancy. Next, comes the work from the NAMI membership, “asking the members to make commitments in each of those areas, track their commitments and deliver on those commitments through 2030.”
And finally, identify the actual measurable targets that the Protein PACT will set in order to show the specific metrics the industry is trying to achieve. This topic was discussed and voted on at the Protein PACT Summit, held Oct. 28-29 in San Antonio.
The Protein PACT initiative, while designed for the meat and poultry industry, is not intended to serve only meat and poultry processors.
“These are non-competitive issues – worker safety, food safety, sustainability,” Miniat said. “We don’t want to compete with one another on any of these issues, we want to work together and make each other better.”
All stakeholders in the animal protein industry have a shared goal of wanting to gain consumer trust while sustaining the agriculture industry as a whole.
“We are very fortunate that our partners in the producer sectors – in beef, pork, dairy and poultry – were working on many of these measures already, and can serve as a very good template for us to follow, of how to go about the process,” Mittenthal said.
These partners include Animal Agriculture Alliance, Beef Alliance, Dairy Management Inc., Elanco, iFeeder, National Corn Growers Association, National Pork Producers Council, National Pork Board, United Soybean Board, US Meat Export Federation and US Roundtable for Sustainable Beef.
“They have provided me with immense amounts of wisdom to understand how to build out a sustainability framework,” Mittenthal added. “Because our goals were really not limited to our membership – they are supply chain-oriented goals – partnering with them allows us to show the extent of the work in the supply chain.
“All of the other frameworks that have been developed thus far have worked to communicate with their membership in their individual producer sectors, but the consumers don’t know about any of it to this point. Our goal in bringing everybody together is taking that story to consumers. It’s about earning consumer trust and taking the story to consumers so that they see the extent of what the industry is committed to and the proof that we’re doing it.”
The metrics being gathered through the Protein PACT campaign – set to start in mid-2022 and go through 2030 – align with many pre-existing standards already in the industry from various environmental, food safety and worker safety organizations and associations such as those outlined in UN Sustainable Development Goals and the Recommended Animal Handling Guidelines and Audit Guide from NAMI.
“One of our priorities was to not reinvent the wheel so every metric that we have exists elsewhere in some form,” Mittenthal explained. “Every company may not be reporting on all of the different items yet, but many will already have a head start.”
This process will start in 2022 after the metrics are finalized and the data management tool is shared with NAMI members. The Protein PACT hopes to get its first round of baseline data from as many of the 372 packer/processor NAMI member companies as possible by the end of the second quarter of 2022. The baseline will show the starting point – where the opportunities are, where the challenges are and where the educational needs are.
The ultimate goal is to have 100% of membership reporting on all metrics by 2030.
“This project is about showcasing how good we are. It’s about talking to consumers and recognizing that consumers have choices, and we want to give consumers the reason why animal protein is a great choice and give them the permission to enjoy animal protein,” Mittenthal said. “Ninety-five percent of Americans eat animal protein, that hasn’t changed for decades, and people want to know why they should continue to enjoy it. We think we have great reasons why.
“If we can focus on how good we are, and the steps we’re taking to be even better, then we’ll succeed.”