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WIAS 2021 Takeaway: What is the Protein PACT?

By Michelle Pelletier Marshall, Women in Agribusiness Media (December 14, 2021)

At this fall’s 10th annual Women in Agribusiness Summit, the game changers in the ag sector were covered and discussed. A key presentation was one by Julie Anna Potts, CEO and president of the North American Meat Institute (NAMI), entitled “Meeting Consumer Expectations for Animal Protein Through the Protein PACT”. As we all are aware at this point, animal protein is facing resistance on many fronts as of late, not the least of which is the fact that in 2020 the plant-based meat market grew 25 percent compared to animal-based meat’s 9 percent. Add to that the growing attention the sector is getting regarding methane emissions, water consumption by the animals, and animal rights and environmental concerns, and the battle gets a little harder.

But NAMI is up to the challenge. With a focus away from defend and deflect, to embrace and change, the organization and its partners throughout the animal protein supply chain recently united to launch the Protein PACT, for the People, Animals and Climate of Tomorrow. This is the largest-ever effort to strengthen animal protein’s contributions to healthy people, healthy animals, healthy communities, and a healthy environment. To achieve this vision, they are working across the industry to establish transparent baselines and benchmarks for continuous improvement, setting ambitious targets for progress to align with global goals, and making a commitment to be proactive and transparent in communicating its efforts.

Join us to hear the highlights of Potts’ session, which detailed this crucial work for the industry and outlined opportunities to get involved.

Julie Anna Potts, CEO and president of NAMI, presents:

I am going to talk about what we are doing in the meat industry to ensure that we are aligning not just the products themselves, but the way they're produced with consumer values. I want to set the stage for what Protein PACT is, why it is necessary, and why it is something the meat industry is doing. By the meat industry, I mean the entire supply chain. So join me to learn a little bit more about this work-in-progress, which is set to launch at the end of October [NOTE: the Women in Agribusiness Summit took place in September 2021].

Now for some background: Three years ago I joined the Meat Institute, which represents about 95 percent of the red meat industry and about 70 percent of turkey production in the U.S. The folks in the industry – the suppliers, those in ingredients and machinery, and also food service and retail – that are part of our organization are incredibly dedicated, and want to have a conversation with the consumers for whom they provide food.

When I joined the organization three years ago, there was already a leadership discussion going on about this in the packing and processing industry… we needed to do less defending and deflecting about what we do and how we do it – because it is slaughtering animals and there's some baggage around that – and more embracing and changing. So from defend and deflect, to embrace and change. The pressure for that conversation was coming from many different areas, but the main focus was the consumer. And these were the kinds of pressures that we see that make us want to be better at how we do what we do.

I was so gratified because having been in production agriculture, I had been part of these conversations on sustainability and trust in what we do for many, many years. So when I got to the packaging and processing sector, it was a bit of a surprise to me that they weren't far enough along in that conversation, and really needed to do a bit of catching up. We began by putting together groups of people within the organization in a task force that came to be known as Protein PACT, with the PACT being an acronym for People, Animals, and the Climate of Tomorrow.

But the timing is important because we were in this conversation together with the U.S. Roundtable for Sustainable Beef, the U.S. Roundtable for Sustainable Poultry and Eggs, which was started a couple of years ago, and the National Pork Board, which had all done these amazing things in the sustainability arena within their own area. What we needed to do was put something together that would encompass all of these things for animal agriculture writ large, put it under a big messaging umbrella and begin to talk more transparently about what it is we are doing in these areas, the improvements made thus far, and what we had identified as the commitments the industry is willing to make in the future.

Creating a Vision

We started with a vision, which included input by several companies, such as Smithfield and Tyson, putting together a framework where the meat industry and the whole supply chain’s values are aligned with what consumers want.

I mentioned investor pressures. Part of getting an entire industry as large as the processing sector in meat, and up and down the supply chain, including retail and food service, is making the business case. We've seen a lot of different industries and a lot of different impact investing groups that have made the case that ESG is where it's at. That's the kind of thing that we're seeing in the meat sector as well. Our customers, our member company customers, are asking these questions and asking to be involved in the conversations that we're having.

Again, making a business case, and this is writ large, this is the impact across meat and poultry. I have members who are as large as Smithfield and those who have less than 50 employees who very proud to do their part in the meat industry, but who also have questions about how they're going to do it -- to invest in continuous improvement in their own sustainability journey.

We partnered with Technomic, which has done a good bit of consumer research in the trust area. So over the last year, we've gathered data, we’ve addressed really specific questions, and come up with six pillar areas: labor and human rights, animal welfare, environmental impact, occupational safety, food safety, and health and wellness. What you see in this chart among those six different areas, there's a baseline indication of a 3.4 to 3.7 depending on what questions you're asking out of five on a trust scale. Well, that's about neutral. It's not terrible. Not great. And by the way, this is only about animal agriculture. We had no interest in denigrating any other kinds of protein sources. This is about positive messages and positive benefits transmitted to consumers about animal protein products and the way they're produced.

What Technomic helped us with in terms of making the whole case to the industry, is that we are expecting to see the upside of $17 billion a year in sales, if we can get this right over the next 10 years. The risk on the downside is doing nothing, where the trust in what we do continues to erode and we see a drop in demand of roughly $13 billion a year over the next 10 years. I'll have to come back to you in a few years and tell you whether this was right or not.

Workstreams and Bold Goals

As we began to deepen our understanding of the consumer research, and we talked with more partners in the supply chain who had additional insights on the consumer research, we realized that if we do well in improving the perception of the humane treatment of animals in the supply chain, that our perception on environmental and food safety goes up as well. If we do well on food safety, the perception on nutritional value and health goes up as well, and so on. That was a very important insight that we have brought to all of our thinking around how we communicate going forward.

This is just a slide that shows the work streams and how we've been approaching this for the last two years to put the framework together. As I mentioned, we had a lot of catching up to do, and we didn't intend to suggest that we had any additional insight for any other part of the supply chain. We just wanted to work across boundaries, across species across geographic areas, and across places in the supply chain, such that when a consumer sits down to a meal, at home in his or her kitchen, or at a restaurant, they feel good and that they have permission to enjoy the products that we that we produce. So we started with bold goals.

We are using this sort of cycle to extract data along several KPIs that will be put into a data collection model that will be anonymized. Then we will analyze that and use it to support the industry messages that we are doing in our communications efforts. It's a way of proving up for those consumers who do want to know more, and being very transparent about where we have improvements to make. It also is going to, if it works in the way I want it to, incentivize improvement in the industry for all players.

I mentioned the bold goals. Look at food safety, for example -- the meat and poultry supply chain produces safe meat and meat products without exception -- some would say that's impossible. But bold goals are our values, and this is what our consuming public wants us to believe in and aspire to. So they are aspirational, but this is where we want to be by 2030.

This has driven everything that the meat industry has talked about for the last two years. And it's everything that NAMI is strategizing around going forward.

What We Measure

Our milestones are what we're going to use internally. And our targets are going to be how we talk to the public. Very shortly, we're going to be announcing these, but I can't unveil them just yet.

Our protein pack metrics are supporting the sustainable development goals. We put our targets together with outside voices at the table, and also submitted the entire thing for public comment for 45 days. We also have a comprehensive communications package in the works. The campaign will be targeted -- we won't be trying to speak to every consumer that would be too heavy a lift with too few resources. This is an opportunity to have a conversation with the influencers who encourage consumers to make choices about their food, and we want some of those choices to be animal agriculture. What we want to supply in the back of the stories is the opportunity to know what the meat industry is doing from feed all the way through to retail, and provide consumers a transparent view into the answers to their questions. And that's what this focus campaign is going to talk about.

We believe that this partnership and collaboration throughout the animal protein industry, with all the different sectors and checkoffs from eggs and dairy all the way through the animal proteins, will continue to grow and provide a special umbrella of messages that consumers need to hear. We're going to make sure the Protein PACT is a global effort as well, and as we continue to layer on and build, we will remain very transparent about what we're doing, who's involved, and what kinds of resources we are putting into this for the benefit of all of animal agriculture.

And note our vision: “We'd like to be able to coexist with those who think that animal agriculture shouldn't exist”. Now if that's not a bold vision, I don't know what is.


Julie Anna Potts is the President and CEO of the North American Meat Institute. An agriculture veteran, Potts previously served the American Farm Bureau Federation (AFBF) as its executive vice president and treasurer. She joined AFBF in 2004, serving as general counsel until 2009. In 2009, she was named chief counsel of the Senate Agriculture Committee, serving under then-Chairman Blanche Lincoln of Arkansas. Earlier in her career, Potts was an associate in the environmental law groups of the Washington, D.C., law firms Mayer Brown, LLP, and Sonnenschein, Nath & Rosenthal. She also clerked for U.S. Magistrate Judge John M. Facciola in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia from 1997-1998.

Potts earned her law degree at The George Washington University Law School in Washington, DC, and her Bachelor of Arts in English at Bryn Mawr College in Bryn Mawr, Pennsylvania. She is a trustee of The Pennsylvania State University and serves on the boards of Agriculture Future of America, the International Stockmen’s Educational Foundation, the International Meat Secretariat, and the Nationwide Mutual Insurance Company. In January 2021, Potts was appointed to USDA’s Agricultural Policy Advisory Committee.


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