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Q&A: American Meat Institute

Thu, 04/08/2010 - 1:15pm
<I>J. Patrick Boyle, President &amp; CEO, American Meat Institute (AMI)</I>

J. Patrick Boyle joined the American Meat Institute (AMI) as President and Chief Executive Officer April 1, 1990. AMI conducts government and media relations programs, scientific research and educational activities and annual trade show events on behalf of the nation's $95 billion meat and poultry industry.

Boyle serves with the Secretary of Agriculture and the U.S. Trade Representative on the Agricultural Policy Advisory Committee; is a member of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce's Committee of 100; and is a Director of the American Institute of Wine and Food.

From 1986-89, Boyle was administrator of the Agricultural Marketing Service at the U.S. Department of Agriculture. At AMS, he oversaw such programs as federal meat grading and the national beef and pork checkoff programs. He was responsible for administering 37 federal statutes affecting food quality, safety, research and marketing of meat, poultry, milk, fruits, vegetables, cotton and tobacco.

A graduate of the University of Notre Dame, Boyle received his law degree from The Catholic University of America in Washington, D.C. He is a member of the District of Columbia Bar.

Q: What effect has the current economic climate had on the meat industry?

A: The meat industry is an important part of the U.S. economy, particularly during this uncertain economic climate. While economic times may alter shopping habits, we have found that consumers largely want to consume meat and poultry products during both economic booms and busts.

While meat and poultry plants are not located in every American city, our products are sold throughout the country, thereby creating millions of jobs and economic impact nationwide. These are real people, with real jobs working in industries as varied as banking, retail, accounting, government, metalworking, even printing, that all depend on the meat and poultry industry for their livelihood. These jobs are referred to as the economic ripple effect of the meat and poultry industry.

According to a recent economic impact study conducted by AMI, the meat and poultry industry directly and indirectly employs 6.2 million people, paying almost $200 billion in wages and benefits. The total contribution in terms of economic output to our economy is over $832 billion – nearly 6 percent of total GDP. Our industry can be proud that we provide millions of quality jobs in every state and every sector of the U.S. economy.

Q: Has the meat industry taken steps towards sustainability?

A: Our companies care about our carbon footprint. AMI's MAPS awards program, which provides a proven framework by which AMI member companies can minimize their environmental impact, improve efficiency and effectiveness, reduce accidents and injuries, lower costs and demonstrate corporate responsibility to the public, continues to thrive, with 147 plants recognized this year.

In 2009, AMI launched our sustainability initiative. A key component of the initiative was an assessment of what sustainability practices are in place in the industry today. By benchmarking our efforts, we can measure progress in the future. We also launched a new web site, www.sustainablemeatindustry.org, which provides our members with a number of resources to help them assess what they are already doing in the various areas of sustainability and how they might improve in this area.

Q: How has the meat industry dealt with criticism from recent documentaries and bad press from recalls?

A: The most important thing we as an industry can do is make sure consumers have the facts. Some activists have attempted to discredit the entire meat and poultry industry as companies that do not care about food safety or the health and welfare of their workers.

Nothing can be further from the truth. In fact, on the issue of food safety, the incidence of pathogenic bacteria like E. coli, Listeria monocytogenes and Salmonella have shown significant reductions. According to USDA, the prevalence of E. coli O157:H7 on raw ground beef has declined by 63 percent since 2000 to a prevalence rate of one-third of one percent. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention data show those human cases of E. coli O157:H7 from all sources – not just meat – have declined by 44 percent since 2000. These strategies have also helped reduce the incidence of Listeria monocytogenes by 69 percent to less than 0.5 percent. Salmonella on market hogs has decreased 67 percent since 1998 to just 2.8 percent. We have seen similar improvement in the incidence of foodborne illness reported by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

When it comes to worker safety, Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) data show that the actual incidence of injuries and illnesses reported in the meat industry for 2007 (the most recent year for which data is available) is the lowest since BLS began recording this data in the early 1970s. Over the last 17 years, injury/illness rates in meat processing operations have decreased by more than 70 percent. The meat packing industry made worker safety a non-competitive issue in 1990 and, together with the Occupational and Safety Health Administration (OSHA) and the United Food and Commercial Workers Union, released voluntary ergonomic guidelines for the meat industry. These were the first industry specific ergonomic guidelines and were hailed as a model for other industries. Data indicate that these efforts have transformed the safety record of the industry.

Additional factual information about the U.S. meat and poultry industry can be found at www.safefoodinc.org, a web site developed by AMI earlier this year.

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