John Miller taking collaborative approach on tough NAMA issues

by Josh Sosland
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WASHINGTON — Taking a collaborative approach has allowed the North American Millers’ Association to leverage its resources and influence in the pursuit of a wide ranging and ambitious agenda, said John C. Miller, NAMA chairman.

Mr. Miller, president of Miller Milling Co., Bloomington, Minn., addressed the NAMA annual meeting Oct. 21. The gathering was held Oct. 19-21 at the Sofitel Lafayette Square hotel in Washington.

Mr. Miller’s presentation was devoted to summarizing the range of issues NAMA sought to tackle in the past year as well as the many collaborations the association pursued to help achieve its objectives.

"With a new administration in Washington, changes in our legislative and regulatory environment were inevitable," Mr. Miller said. "I felt it was imperative that we, as an association, work together in collaboration with our potential allies to ensure the best possible outcome of pending and approaching regulations and legislation affecting our industry."

Toward that end, Mr. Miller traveledto Washington in February for meetings with the Grocery Manufacturers Association, the Corn Refiners Association, the National Grain and Feed Association and the American Bakers Association. The trip turned out to be the first of several he has made to the nation’s capital to "continue fostering collaborations," he said.

Issues of common interest between the milling industry and other groups include food safety, facility security, product promotion, biotechnology, research funding, food aid and trade.

"We have collaborated on these issues with other associations by forming coalitions, co-signing letters to Congress, submitting joint comments on proposed regulations and co-authoring position statements," Mr. Miller said.

NAMA belongs to 16 different coalitions. NAMA co-signed letters to Congress that:

•Supported reauthorization of the Department of Homeland Security Chemical Facility Anti-Terrorism Stands, opposing provisions that would disrupt milling operations;

•Expressed concern about the impact of proposed climate change legislation; and

•Asked Congress to increase agricultural research funding.

Letters also were written regarding food safety legislation, food aid delivery and the status of flour as a "respiratory sensitizer."

"All told, the letters represented the views of 60 organizations," Mr. Miller said.

In its collaborative work, NAMA joined with the National Grain and Feed Association and the North American Export Grain Association to submit comments to the U.S. Department of Agriculture seeking the suspension of the deregulation of amylase corn.

"We worked with the American Bakers Association, the Grain Foods Foundation, the National Association of Wheat Growers and the Wheat Foods Council on comments explaining the importance of both whole and enriched grains in the U.S. Dietary Guidelines," Mr. Miller said.

Successes from these efforts included the joint development of a Facility Risk-Assessment & Security Guide, a joint statement (with others from the United States, Canada and Australia) supporting the commercialization of bioengineered wheat and the approval of agricultural research funding by Congress.

Looking forward, Mr. Miller said the principal issues facing the industry also are conducive to collaborative work, including food safety regulations, food facility requirements, special use traits, bioengineered wheat and the MyPyramid Tier project.

"We will continue to work in collaboration with other organizations to ensure that the interests of our members are best represented in the formation and implementation of public policy affecting the industry," Mr. Miller said.

Even as NAMA grapples with myriad concrete issues of concern to the industry, the group is taking a broader look at matters of common concern, said Elizabeth A. (Betsy) Faga, president of the group.

Ms. Faga spoke with Milling & Baking News Oct. 20 during the group’s annual meeting.

Public perception of commercially produced food ingredients and processed food was a subject of discussion, Ms. Faga said. Rather than simply taking a dismissive view of "Food, Inc.," a recent documentary highly critical of the food business, the millers discussed the underpinnings that are shaping public perceptions about the food industry.

"Buying local, supporting a farmer’s market, knowing where your food is grown are good things," Ms. Faga said. "But millers also are aware of the need to feed a world with growing population numbers.

"From a perception perspective, we don’t have what the Food, Inc. people have. We’re asking whether, over the long term, we need to look at improving our messaging. Some of the largest food companies are taking steps to shore up their image. Is there something that we as an association can do? It is a question we are exploring."

Ms. Faga said NAMA has formed a food safety committee to "look at food safety from a multi-faceted perspective." The committee will be chaired by Paul Maass, NAMA vice-chairman and president of ConAgra Mills, Omaha.

"It’s a small committee, but we have both technical members and board members," Ms. Faga said. "We want the full complement of technical expertise and policy perspective."

First on the agenda for the committee is work on the various legislative proposals in Congress presently (see related story on Page 20). Various audits available will be reviewed with interest in exploring whether a single audit regime may be possible. The group also will work on food safety communication, evaluating what kind of information may be available to the pubic if food safety issues related to milling surface.

"Food safety is one of six issues that are focus areas for NAMA," Ms. Faga said. "With all that has happened in the past year in the food industry, it has risen to a high level of concern for us. We hope milling never has a food safety crisis, but we want to be prepared."

Other areas of NAMA focus are supporting increased utilization and consumption, advocating free trade and food aid programs, promoting an adequate supply of quality grains, promoting the integrity of the industry’s products and effectively representing the membership’s interests in public policy.

Ms. Faga also elaborated on the issue of specific special use traits and their potential to impact milling. While the industry has been and remains supportive of agricultural biotechnology, concern has steadily grown about the possible implications for milling of a new generation of bioengineered products developed with specific output traits.

While the first generation of bioengineered seed generally was productivity oriented, with traits such as Roundup Ready, technology companies increasingly are looking at traits that are not specifically aimed at increasing crop yields.

"An example is the introduction of soybeans that produce healthier soybean oil," Ms. Faga said. "In the future, perhaps something could be done for celiac disease. There may be other nutritional traits to be explored — the kind of traits that companies would pay a premium to buy."

Of particular concern, though, is a variety of corn developed by Syngenta. High-amylase corn is expected to make ethanol production more efficient.

Noting that the U.S. Department of Agriculture is responsible for the food, feed and environmental testing required before public release, Ms. Faga said the variety appears to be performing well, with no food safety issues having emerged.

"But the industry has other concerns," she said. "We question if the corn gets into the wrong stream, how it will affect milling, food processing or the functionality of the industry’s products.

Ms. Faga said the milling industry has been working with technology providers to grapple with issues associated with traits targeting specific uses. She broke down the discussions into three basic topics:

Risk assessment — Understanding how other parts of the chain may be affected if the variety gets into the wrong stream

Risk management — Once vulnerabilities are identified, how do you manage them? For instance, extra steps may be needed in localized areas where the end-use trait seed is planted.

Responsibility — The milling industry is anxious to avoid being put in a position in which it is required to test for the presence of the seeds.

"We have strong memories of StarLink, and we are not in the business of testing for everything that is developed," she said. "Human error is a factor with traits that have been introduced. We believe it is incumbent on the technology provider to assume responsibility if a trait appears in the product stream for which it isn’t intended."

From an overarching point of view, Ms. Faga said the milling industry is looking for agreements with technology providers that do not stymie technological development but protect the interests of the milling and food processing industries.

 

Charles Stout elected to executive committee; Richard Coonrod, Rick Cole named honorary members

WASHINGTON — At the annual board meeting of the North American Millers’ Association, Charles B. Stout was elected to the executive committee for the 2009-12 term, and Richard A. Coonrod and Rick Cole were elected as NAMA honorary members.

The nominating committee report was presented by Rick L. Schwein of Grain Millers Inc., the immediate past chairman of NAMA.

Mr. Stout has been president of Milner Milling Co. since 1989. The company has mills in Barnesville, Ga., and Birmingham, Ala. In 2002, he was named to the additional duties of president and chief executive officer of Pendleton Flour Mill, with mills in Pendleton, Ore.; Blackfoot, Idaho, and Honolulu, Hawaii. He has been a member of the NAMA board since 2002.

On the executive committee, Mr. Stout succeeded Donald L. Mennel, president of The Mennel Milling Co., Fostoria, Ohio, whose term expired.

Mr. Coonrod, who attended the NAMA meeting and accepted the honorary membership, has had a career in agribusiness spanning longer than 55 years. He was a group vice-president and president of the Agri-Products Group at The Pillsbury Co., and was executive vice-president of the corporation.

Within the industry, Mr. Coonrod held leadership positions with the Millers’ National Federation, the National Grain and Feed Association, the National Grain Trade Council, the Chicago Board of Trade and the St. Louis Grain Exchange. At M.N.F., Mr. Coonrod served on the board and executive committee from 1979-84, a time when Pillsbury was the nation’s largest miller and one of the world’s largest flour milling companies.

After retiring from Pillsbury in 1985, Mr. Coonrod remained active in the grain industry, serving as president and c.e.o. of AGRI Industries, Des Moines, Iowa, through 1986 and then as president and c.e.o. of St. Louis Ship through 1992.

Mr. Coonrod and his wife, Phyllis, reside in Minneapolis.

Involved more recently in the milling industry was Rick Cole, who retired in July 2009 after spending 36 years at General Mills, Inc. He spent 25 years working in the oats business. Following early assignments in Minneapolis and Chicago, Mr. Cole moved back to Minneapolis in 1984, first as a spring wheat trader and later shifting to oats. He eventually was promoted to managing director of terminal and country grain operations.

Mr. Cole was active in the American Oat Association and remained active in industry affairs during the 11 years the oat millers were part of NAMA. He was chairman of the NAMA Oat Division in 2000-02. He participated in annual oat lobbying efforts to secure federal funds for oat research. He worked with the Chicago Board of Trade on various facets of the oat futures contract to maintain its viability.

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