Successful Stewardship

J. Patrick Boyle, winner of The National Provisioner’s first Career Achievement Award, remains committed to continued growth and building of the American Meat Institute.
He would be the youngest CEO to lead the American Meat Institute when he was named to the post in 1989, and today, in his 18th year at the helm, J. Patrick Boyle is being honored as the first recipient of a Career Achievement Award, an honor developed and awarded by The National Provisioner to recognize the lifetime of successful service by individuals to the meat and poultry industries.
A lawyer by training and a man who had led a major U.S. Department of Agriculture agency at only 32, Boyle had previous experience working in Congress and lobbying for two food industry trade associations. Eighteen years ago, the AMI Board of Directors thought he had the skills to lead the industry into a new century, and today, they’d be pleased with their decision. Boyle led the industry through a time of both crisis and progress. His charismatic leadership brought a new energy to a traditional association.
His colleagues say that from the beginning, Boyle showed a willingness to confront and solve problems — and there were numerous facing the industry. Meat companies were in the spotlight for their worker-safety records. The industry was facing implementation of new nutrition-labeling rules. The animal-rights movement was emerging as a potent threat. The Institute’s trade show had grown stale. And over the next few years, high-profile food-safety incidents would thrust AMI into the national spotlight.
Prior to AMI, Boyle was administrator of the Agricultural Marketing Service (AMS) at the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) from 1986 to 1989. At the AMS, he oversaw programs such as the federal meat grading and national beef checkoff and pork checkoff programs. Boyle administered 37 federal statutes affecting food quality, safety, research and marketing of meat, poultry, milk, fruits, vegetables, cotton and tobacco. For two years prior to his AMS service, he served as an agriculture legislative assistant to Sen. Pete Wilson (R-Calif.). From 1980 to 1984, Boyle was an attorney for the United Fresh Fruit and Vegetable Association and the National Grocers Association.
All of these positions helped prepare him for a career at AMI that he continues to find challenging and rewarding today. His experiences have been diverse, from touting the virtues of the all-American hot dog at AMI’s Annual Hot Dog Lunch on the Hill, to serving as an advisor on international trade negotiations, traveling to Tokyo and Korea to reassure government officials about U.S. beef safety, debating industry critics on national TV and testifying on Capitol Hill.
Many times in the crazy and unpredictable world of Washington politics, he has been known to shake his head and say, “You can’t make this stuff up — such as the Christmas Eve he spent in TV studios doing media interviews about the United States’ first case of BSE in December 2003.
He says that what makes him most proud about his years at AMI are the four Board votes to make important issues non-competitive: worker safety, food safety, animal welfare and the environment.
“These votes have helped open the doors to new ideas and information,” Boyle said. “We’ve been able to leverage our collective knowledge and expertise and the successful results of these efforts are real and measurable.” He points to steep declines in bacteria on meat and poultry products and corresponding reductions in foodborne illnesses as evidence of this success. “Working together had a very positive effect on the industry,” Boyle says.
In 1990, work needed to be done to enhance workplace safety. The industry’s non-competitive approach brought about Voluntary Ergonomic Guidelines for the Meat Industry, the first industry-specific ergonomic guidelines. They were developed with the United Food and Commercial Workers and endorsed by the U.S. Department of Labor. “At that point, meatpacking was considered one of the most dangerous occupations. Since then there’s been a 50 percent decline in sicknesses, illnesses and recordable injuries,” Boyle says.
These votes also spawned a culture of collaboration regarding animal welfare and environmental issues. In 1991, AMI partnered with leading animal-welfare expert Dr. Temple Grandin of Colorado State University to develop Recommended Animal Handling Guidelines for the Meat Industry. Six years later, an animal-welfare audit tool was released, and three years after that, AMI launched a very successful animal-handling training conference that continues to this day.
More recently, AMI began tackling environmental stewardship with new guidelines and with a tiered awards program aimed at implementing and enhancing environmental-management systems in plants.
For Boyle, representing the industry has been a “great honor.” During the years since he joined AMI, the meat industry has shown dramatic change and innovation in many areas.
“The industry is creating products that are responsive to consumers, such as ready-to-heat and [ready-to-eat], pre-marinated, and for dieters, healthy, low-fat products. The diversity of products is helpful,” Boyle says. Annual per capita meat and poultry consumption has sustained a steady and incremental increase, while the industry’s continually improving efficiency has driven the percent of disposable income that Americans spend on food down every year, which allows America bragging rights to the most affordable food supply — and the most affordable meat and poultry supply — found anywhere in the world.
Even the challenges could be transformed into opportunities. Boyle recalls when USDA Food Safety and Inspection Service Administrator Michael Taylor in 1994 addressed AMI’s Annual Convention and announced that USDA/FSIS would soon declare that E. coli O157: H7 was an adulterant when found in ground beef.
He recalls the shock among the industry about this announcement, which clearly had no basis in science. Declaring something to be an adulterant and actually eliminating it are two entirely different things, he reflects. AMI challenged the policy in court — and failed. “But ultimately we prevailed because we harnessed science where the government had not. And now, E. coli O157:H7 is found at astonishingly low levels that we never thought we could achieve.”
Since 1906, the meat industry has undoubtedly become much more complex. Boyle credits AMI’s partnership approach that encourages active member engagement and peer-to-peer instruction with much of its success. “The reason AMI is so successful is because of active involvement from its member companies, the chairmen, the presidents, policy-making committees and those working directly in areas of great importance to our industry,” Boyle says.
“Today, AMI’s staff and membership is populated with experts. That input, expertise and leadership, and the role of directors, position us well on the way to the next 100 years,” Boyle says. “AMI has a history of leadership and a culture of working collaboratively. There are very few associations that survive to celebrate their centennial. I’m proud that we — members and staff — are able to reflect back with a sense of satisfaction about a job well done and look forward to meeting new challenges and pursuing new opportunities.”
The National Provisioner would like to thank the American Meat Institute for its editorial contributions to this article in celebration of our first-ever Career Achievement Award winner, J. Patrick Boyle.