The 108-year-old American Meat Institute is close to a merger with the two-year-old North American Meat Association. Among other roles, the new organization will direct the meat industry’s approach to food safety. What gives? James Marsden, Regent’s Distinguished Professor of Food Safety at Kansas State University, answered that question Monday in his regular Meatingplace column. He predicted that the new association resulting from the merger will represent a “new beginning” for the meat industry with a culture that is “progressive and consumer oriented.” Others in the meat industry are talking about speaking with “one voice.” Recent consolidation of meat industry organizations began more than two years ago when the North American Meat Processors Association (NAMP) and the National Meat Association (NMA) began a courtship that ended in a marriage. The North American Meat Association (NAMA) became the new name of that merged organization and it is now in a plan for a merger with the American Meat Institute (AMI). AMI is the meat industry’s big stick. Formed in 1906 by an industry set back on its heels by the publication of “The Jungle” by Upton Sinclair, AMI was formed as Congress was passing the first Federal Meat Inspection Act. NAMA’s predecessor organizations owe their beginnings to World War II’s price controls and rationing. That was a problem for Chicago dealers of value-added meats. They came together under the umbrella of the National Association of Hotel and Restaurant Meat Purveyors. This alliance cut through the rationing schemes and found ways to sell meat to hotels and restaurants at a fair price. The group evolved first into the National Association of Meat Purveyors and finally into the North American Meat Processors Association to reflect that its members were coming from Canada and Mexico, in addition to the United States. NAMP merged two years ago with the National Meat Association (NMA), which also dates back to World War II, first under the name of the Western States Meat Packers Association. A second predecessor to NMA was the Pacific Coast Meat Association. Those two merged in 1982 as the Western States Meat Association. NMA then came about in 1996 by the merger of Western States and the Mountain/Plains Meat Association. The North American Meat Association formed by the 2012 merger of NMA and NAMPA, and its top executives are now CEO Barry Carpenter and executive director Phil Kimball. Carpenter is a former top USDA executive, and Kimball is an expert in agricultural exports and association management who started out as a Capitol Hill staffer on agricultural appropriations. Carpenter and Kimball have about 15 people on their full-time executive staffs. Budget information was not readily available. NAMA maintains these four offices: Washington, D.C.; Oakland, CA; Ottawa, and Mexico City. Many see NAMA as mostly representative of small- and mid-sized meat processors, but, with companies joining multiple associations, that might be a stereotype. Discussions between the two organizations got under way in September 2013, and NAMA’s board of directors voted on March 21 to merge with AMI under an agreement and plan that will take effect on Jan. 1, 2015. “The NAMA Board feels strongly that the members will be best served by the merger,” said Tony Gahn, Jr., NAMA’s co-president. “The time has come for the industry to speak with one voice,” added Mike Hesse, NAMA’s other co-president. The temporary co-presidency stems from the 2012 merger. A change in leadership with the departure of AMI’s longest-running president and chief executive made the merger talks possible. J. Patrick Boyle, who led the group from 1990 to 2013, retired at year-end. He was a major factor in AMI’s power and influence. He did not come cheaply, however. According to the nonprofit organization’s IRS Form 990 report, Boyle’s total compensation for 2012 topped $1.14 million. AMI Executive Vice President James Hodges is now serving as the interim president and CEO. Boyle left AMI with a membership that includes 95 percent of the nation’s beef, pork, lamb, and veal processors and 70 percent of the turkey production. The group’s IRS Form 990 report shows AMI’s annual revenues at about $10 million. It’s 33 professional staffers work out of Connecticut Avenue offices in Washington, D.C., just four blocks from NAMP.