The new North American Meat Institute (NAMI) will be born right on schedule come New Year’s Day. NAMI is the product of the merger of the 108-year-old American Meat Institute (AMI) and the North American Meat Association (NAMA), with origins dating back to 1942. The merger combines into one the two large meat industry organizations that have been that sector’s impact players on all issues, including food safety. AMI, for example, initially sued in federal court to prevent E. coli O157:H7 from being listed as an adulterant in meat when the issue first arose 20 years ago. More recently, NAMA has gained attention for its annual hands-on training sessions in methods that have successfully controlled the deadly pathogen. The two organizations announced the merger earlier this year after negotiations in 2013 were able to prepare both boards of directors for unanimous merger votes in 2014. The new North American Meat Institute has also began to make staffing announcements. NAMA’s Barry Carpenter, a former top USDA official, will be the new group’s president and chief executive officer. He’s held the same job at NAMA. That Carpenter will head up the new organization comes as no surprise. Merger talks with NAMA were one of the last duties of AMI’s J. Patrick Boyle, who retired a year ago after serving the organization for 24 years as president and CEO. In one of his first major personnel decisions for NAMI, Carpenter named Pete Thomson as vice president of legislative affairs. Thomson will join the new staff on Jan. 5, ending 31 years of Congressional experience. He will depart as the senior advisor for livestock issues to the House Agriculture Committee. While on the committee staff, he counseled five chairmen and interacted with the entire spectrum of producers, packers, processors, retailers and consumers. Thomson came to Congress in 1983 with Rep. Bob Smith, but soon left the Oregon Republican’s staff for the House committee. Thompson has worked on six different farm bills and has been actively engaged in a wide array of key issues, including industry marketing and structure, country-of-origin labeling (COOL), regulatory issues associated with GIPSA (Grain Inspection, Packers and Stockyards Administration), foreign market access and animal identification. “Pete Thomson’s experience on the Hill and his deep understanding of agriculture and livestock issues in particular will be invaluable to NAMI members,” Carpenter said. “We are fortunate to have his leadership on our team at this important time in our Institute’s history.” Since announcing that their respective boards had voted for the merger, the two organizations have been careful to be on the same page. They reacted to the recent World Trade Organization (WTO) decision against U.S. policy on COOL with a joint statement in which they said the decision was no surprise. “USDA’s mandatory COOL rule is not only onerous and burdensome on livestock producers and meat packers and processors, it does not bring the U.S. into compliance with its WTO obligations,” the two organizations stated. “By being out of compliance, the U.S. is subject to retaliation from Canada and Mexico that could cost the U.S. economy billions of dollars.” The U.S. is now in the early stages of an appeal of that ruling, but the chances aren’t good that it will prevail after three previous WTO losses on the issue. Losing again would mean Canada and Mexico could get the green light for imposing tariffs on American exports on all sorts of things to make up for the losses in the meat trade. That could give the new NAMI an opening to reduce or repeal the COOL law. In their earlier joint statement, the two groups said it was time to restore relationships with two of America’s largest and most important trading partners. Meat packers and processors of beef, pork, lamb, veal and turkey products and their suppliers have joined AMI to protect their interests. AMI’s members produce 95 percent of the beef, pork, lamb and veal products and 70 percent of the turkey products in the U.S. NAMA’s 600 members throughout the U.S., Canada, and Mexico are involved in meat and poultry packing and processing. Both groups, now merging into one, provide a raft of legislative, regulatory, technical, scientific and education services. AMI was founded in Chicago in 1906 just after the Federal Meat Inspection Act was passed by Congress. Its original name was the American Meat Packers Association and its first task was to help its 300 members comply with the new federal law. AMI is probably the main reason taxpayers — rather than the industry and its consumers — pay the $1 billion the federal government spends annually on meat inspection today. In 1919, the name was changed to the Institute of American Meat Packers and finally AMI in 1940. AMI moved its headquarters to Washington, D.C., in 1979. It merged with the National Independent Meat Packers Association (NIMPA) in 1982 and began managing the U.S. Hide, Skin and Leather Association in 1990. In 1991, AMI changed its bylaws to allow poultry processors to become full members, and, in 1992, the AMI Foundation was established to focus on research, education and information of interest to the meat and poultry industry. In 1999, the AMI Foundation launched a multi-million-dollar, multi-year food safety initiative with the goal of reducing and ultimately eliminated Listeria monocytogenes and E. coli 0157:H7 from meat and poultry products. The North American Meat Association was created by the 2012 merger of the North American Meat Processors Association (NAMPA) and the National Meat Association (NMA). Here’s the way the groups explained their lineage in the run-up to that merger:
“As a result of this organization’s efforts, the regulation was amended and all sellers of meat products to hotels and restaurants were permitted to sell their products at a fair price. The association changed its name to the National Association of Meat Purveyors and began serving the needs of its members. In March 1996, the association changed its name to North American Meat Processors Association to reflect that it had begun to serve members in Canada, Mexico, and other countries. NAMP was unique among meat industry trade associations in having a North American focus in its programs and services.” The National Meat Association had a similarly transformative history. Its first predecessor organization, Western States Meat Packers Association, was formed in 1946. Two years later, its second, Pacific Coast Meat Association, was chartered. These two would join together in 1982 to become the Western States Meat Association. Finally, in 1995, out of a merger of WSMA with the Mountain/Plains Meat Association, the National Meat Association was formed.