KANSAS CITY, MO. — Pet food processors, renderers, suppliers and academia came together at the 2023 Pet Food Alliance (PFA) Technical Meeting held at the Kansas City Convention Center on May 4.

The meeting kicked off Wednesday, May 3, with a cocktail reception sponsored by Pet Food Processing, in which industry members prepared to unite and discuss their latest concerns.

The overall goal of the 2023 meeting was to foster cross-industry collaboration, something Jennifer Martin, Ph.D., assistant professor at the Center for Meat Safety and Quality at Colorado State University’s (CSU) Department of Animal Sciences, claims is a cornerstone of the PFA.

“We’re recognizing that we’re better together when we collaborate and work together to identify solutions, and we’re even more impactful when [those in the industry are] guiding the research that’s occurring,” Martin said. “One of the things we wanted to do when the alliance was started was first recognize that impactful research requires multiple viewpoints, multiple people at the table. And how can we provide people, who don't often get together to talk about research, the opportunity to discuss research? How can we make sure that all players are at the table and that academics, the pet food industry, rendering industry, meat industry and other allied industries all have a seat at the table articulating their needs but also guiding the research itself?”

When asked, “What are the top challenges for the pet food industry?”, those attending the meeting mentioned oxidation, mycotoxins, foreign materials, Salmonella control, peroxide value (PV), stability, inflation and other issues. When asked, “What are the top challenges for the rendering industry?”, attendees mentioned PV, foreign materials, oxidation, contamination, consumer perception, freshness and other problems.

“There are some similar themes across [the pet food and rendering industries],” Martin pointed out. “If both industries have the same challenges, then there’s an opportunity for us to work together to find the solutions. That is the Pet Food Alliance. Our goal today is to move beyond articulating challenges to working together to find solutions.”

The 2023 meeting covered a variety of topics, from regulatory and association updates to food safety and quality issues. Speakers included:

  • Patrick Tovey, senior director of food safety and regulatory compliance at Pet Food Institute (PFI), who provided an update on PFI’s latest moves;
  • Louise Calderwood, director of regulatory affairs at the American Feed Industry Association (AFIA), who provided an update on the AFIA’s industry initiatives;
  • Charles Starkey, Ph.D., vice president of scientific and regulatory affairs and director of research for the Fats and Proteins Research Foundation (FPRF), who highlighted the extreme importance of continued cross-industry collaboration, particularly further involvement of the meat processing industry;
  • Valentina Trinetta, Ph.D., associate professor at the Animal Sciences and Industry Department at Kansas State University’s College of Agriculture, who presented the latest data on truck and tank sanitation, evaluating current sanitation practices and highlighting the need for more cohesive strategies throughout the rendering, transportation and pet food industries;
  • Lindsey McWilliams, senior innovation scientist at Wilbur-Ellis Nutrition, who spoke about product quality testing for rendered pet nutrition products, touching upon the various methods of PV evaluation of fat;
  • And Craig Coon, Ph.D., co-owner of Four Rivers Kennel, LLC and poultry nutritionist at the University of Arkansas, who provided a brief update on PV testing.

Among the many speakers, Dave Carter, director of regional technical assistance coordination at the Flower Hill Institute, also discussed the opportunity smaller meat processors can provide to pet food processors. The Flower Hill Institute is working with the US Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) Agricultural Marketing Service (AMS) to help develop a more resilient, diverse and equitable meat and poultry processing system in the United States through the Meat & Poultry Processing Capacity Technical Assistance (MPPTA) Program.

Dave Carter, director of regional technical assistance coordination at the Flower Hill Institute presenting at PFA's Technical Meeting

Dave Carter, director of regional technical assistance coordination at the Flower Hill Institute. (Source: Sosland Publishing Co. / Nicole Kerwin)

In his presentation, Carter shared that smaller meat processors are facing issues competing with larger processors with regard to full protein utilization. Smaller processors often struggle to sell other parts of slaughtered animals that are unfit for human consumption, and find themselves paying to have these valuable parts hauled away from their facilities. This, according to Carter, presents an opportunity for pet food processors, as they can use these otherwise wasted proteins, which often carry specialized product attributes like Certified Organic, that large meat processors fail to provide.

“The smaller processors that we [Flower Hill Institute] are working with really have the types of ingredients that today's pet parents are looking for,” Carter explained. “Large processors are not going to slow down a line to do USA-born and raised, or grass-fed and or certified organic; these attributes are going to be handled more by those smaller processors.”

During the 2023 PFA Technical Meeting, the Product Quality, Product Safety, and Consumer Perception and Sustainability working groups met twice throughout the day. The goal of these cross-industry meetings was to help identify research needed to help support all the industries.  

“The pet food alliance has two pivotal points at its foundation,” Martin said. “First, research should be guided by industry inputs… with a goal of creating industry-guiding research. The other piece that’s key is developing collaborative relationships among researchers. Not only identifying research needs that are guided by industry but recognizing that research occurs best when it's done collaboratively.”

The Product Quality working group further discussed the issue of measuring PV and spoke of a need for research to create consistent methodology for fat extraction, which will then help establish a new standard for PV evaluation. The Product Safety working group expressed interest in further validating Trinetta’s research on truck sanitation.

The Consumer Perception and Sustainability working group shared the need for clarity on sustainability by gaining a full understanding of the many ways pet food processors are handling sustainability (i.e., What accreditations/certifications are they seeking from suppliers? How can rendered ingredients be better viewed by consumers?) The group also shared thoughts on re-envisioning the education surrounding pet food, and how to provide the younger generation with the skills they need to support the pet food and rendering industries without relying on higher education.

These issues will serve as priorities for the alliance as it seeks to move the various pet food, rendering and meat processing industries forward.

Read more about pet food and treat industry events.