Guest Opinion: Delays in reviewing new animal food ingredients hurt Oregon consumers

What can $10 buy you today? Two cups of coffee? Three gallons of gas? Maybe two gallons of milk and a couple dozen eggs? Chances are, $10 won’t really buy you much these days, but in 1934 that’s all it took for 99 farmers in Central Point, Oregon, to come together to start their own cooperative. Now, more than 80 years later, Grange Co-op is a multi-million-dollar business providing agricultural services and products to people throughout the Pacific Northwest.

Grange Co-op’s Ag Operations Elevator has been producing Quality Rogue Feeds since 1947 and became certified to produce organic feeds in early 2002. Our team of dedicated employees join the 4,225 people across Oregon who are employed by the animal food manufacturing industry, supporting the future production of a safe, wholesome and abundant food supply and providing nutritious food to help our animals live longer, healthier lives.

At our facility, we produce everything from bulk organic dairy to bagged livestock and poultry feed. Of the roughly 236.3 million tons of animal feed that is produced in the country each year, we are proud to contribute to the 1.5 million tons that is produced right here in Oregon.

In producing animal food, we are not only supporting agriculture, but we also have a significant impact on the economy. For instance, in 2016, the U.S. animal food manufacturing industry generated over $297 billion in sales, including roughly $102 billion in value-added benefits to associated industries. In that same year, Oregon’s animal food manufacturing industry generated $1.3 billion in state sales and over $88.7 million in taxes, proving its crucial role in our state’s agricultural economy.

In the agriculture industry, we know that the world population is expected to triple in our lifetimes and with it, the demand for animal protein and dairy products will continue to grow. While we are committed to producing safe, more efficient feed in accordance with stringent state and federal laws and regulations, we continue to face challenges at the federal level in bringing new ingredients to the marketplace.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s Center for Veterinary Medicine (CVM) is responsible for reviewing and approving new ingredients for use in animal food products. This ensures that all 900 or so ingredients currently approved for use in feed and pet food in the country are safe for animals to eat.

Over the last several years, the agency’s “timely” and “expeditious” review of ingredient approvals has been stagnant at best. In fact, a recent study found that companies lose an average $1.75 million for every year they wait in what I like to call, “regulatory purgatory.” With average wait times lasting anywhere from three to five (or more) years, companies are prevented from investing that money in the research and development that will be needed to help the animal agriculture industry become more efficient and sustainable to meet the growing dietary needs of a burgeoning population as well as improve the lives of our furry and feathered friends.

The FDA recently asked stakeholders how it could reduce the regulatory burden, both on the CVM and the regulated industry, without compromising animal health and safety. What a perfect opportunity for our nation’s leaders to more closely take a look at how the agency is handling the animal food ingredient review and approval processes. By reducing some of the inefficiencies in the current process and ensuring that the ones that are in place work properly, co-ops like ours can continue to bring forward new ingredients for our rancher, farmer and backyard customers. This will also help our commercial producers reduce their production costs, which in turn keeps food costs for Oregonians down. What a great opportunity to support our industry improving its manufacturing practices, which helps us all become better stewards of our environment.

At the end of the day, we all want access to a safe and affordable food and pet food supply. Unlike in 1934, $10 doesn’t buy you much anymore, and with many Oregonians already feeling the squeeze in their wallets, we must do more to ensure we limit the rise in costs for animal food products. With the population expected to swell to nearly 10 billion in the next 30 years, the cost of ongoing regulatory delays to bring new animal food ingredients to the marketplace is simply too great not to take action now to support animal agriculture.

Brian Wilkerson is director of ag operations for Grange Co-op Supply and a past president of the Oregon Feed and Grain Association.

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