by Constance Cullman, President and CEO, American Feed Industry Association

For the first time in recent memory Americans are seeing images of empty store shelves, long lines to get into stores, and closed restaurants. The novel coronavirus pandemic has created concerns about the stability and safety of the nation's food supply. Nearly 17 million people who recently lost their jobs are now wondering if they can pay their basic bills. The truth is, Americans have a lot on their plates right now but wondering from where their next meal will come should not be one of them. We in the animal food industry are working to make sure their actual plates are filled with the affordable and nutritious protein, aquaculture and dairy products that they have come to expect.

Like our counterparts in the human food industry, the animal feed and pet food industries are an 'essential' business, keeping machines running at roughly 6,200 US manufacturing facilities. Each day these facilities are producing feed for America's livestock, poultry and fish as well as providing food and treats for our beloved animal companions. While roughly 945,000 employees are working around-the-clock to support the production of the US feed and food supply, the companies that employ them are taking extra precautions to keep them healthy so that they can continue reporting for duty.

However, maintaining a strong food supply is not all our industry is doing. I am proud to say that many of the American Feed Industry Association's (AFIA) members are contributing time, resources and energy to serving Americans and the medical communities in other charitable ways.

For example, Alltech's Lexington Brewing and Distilling Company in Kentucky is using its own supply of alcohol to make and donate much-needed hand sanitiser to city and state leaders fighting the COVID-19 epidemic. Biofuels producer POET was able to enhance the existing capabilities of its plants to create an all-natural, ethanol-based sanitiser product that will help alleviate the needs of high-risk groups, including assisted living facilities and hospitals, in the Sioux Falls, South Dakota, area.

Meanwhile, Texas Farm Products donated 400 N-95 respirators to its local call centers and testing sites and Animal Science Products donated face shields for emergency workers.

Other AFIA member companies, including ADM, are pledging millions to various organisations, including the United Nations Foundation's 'COVID-19 Solidarity Response Fund for the World Health Organisation' and various regional and local charities involved in COVID-19 relief and mitigation. ADM is also providing grants to employees facing financial hardships through its Colleague Emergency Fund.

Companies are also picking up the tab to keep Americans fed. For instance, Smithfield Foods launched the Good Food Challenge, donating millions in cash and in-kind donations, such as four million servings of protein, and inviting the public to support them in their efforts to provide up to 10 million meals to Feeding America's network of 200 food banks. Kalmbach Feeds will donate one meal to Feeding America for every bag of Kalmbach Feeds, Tribute or Formula of Champions branded feed sold. Smithfield Foods also donated funds to the Children of Restaurant Employees (CORE), which supports food and beverage service industry employees and their families in need following a COVID-19 diagnosis, through #TheGreatAmericanTakeout social media campaign.

Tyson Foods is committed to serving the local communities where its plants operate by donating four million pounds in protein products and community grants. Grants will go toward nonprofits providing emergency response efforts, such as rent and utility assistance, food distribution, healthcare, childcare, small business support and other economic recovery services. It is also bolstering its Helping Hands program, which supports employees facing financial hardship.

Foster Farms and Perdue Farms pledged their support to food banks and community organisations in the communities where they operate by way of donating millions of pounds of protein to those in need.

Elanco Animal Health launched the Elanco Foundation, which is pledging to fight rising food insecurity challenges in communities where it operates. In Indiana, where the company is headquartered, it is leading a coalition to raise over a million dollars to feed 10,000 families with children in the Indianapolis Public School System for eight weeks, where roughly four in five children struggle with having enough food to eat at home.

Mountaire Farms donated 40,000 pounds of chicken to the Delaware Food Bank and another 30,000 pounds of chicken to food pantries and the Boys and Girls Clubs. In addition, it has discounted chicken for employees and those shopping at select retailers in the area. Ardent Mills donated flour as part of a partnership with Heidi's Brooklyn Deli to give away bread at various locations from California to Maine.

Companies are also looking for opportunities to divert food products intended for use by other industries, such as travel. For example, with the decreases in cruise ships sailing out of Florida, Cargill Protein donated 10,000 pounds of frozen beef, pork and chicken to food banks in the Florida Keys.

Our members are also finding ways to give back to the nation's pets, who are providing so much comfort and solace while we adjust to a life of social distancing. Hill's Pet Nutrition is donating pet food to pantry partners, animal shelters and other nonprofits caring for pets through its Food, Shelter & Love program, Disaster Relief Network and in conjunction with some of its animal welfare partners. Other members, such as Greenies, Merrick, Nature's Variety and Wellpet, have taken a different approach, offering discounted prices on pet food and treats, and the amount that is discounted gets donated to COVID-19 relief efforts. This is a win-win situation, allowing people to benefit from more affordable food, while supporting the efforts to curtail this deadly outbreak.

These activities are in addition to our industry's 'hometown heroes,' team members who are giving back in other ways to support the country's COVID-19 relief efforts - from donating blood, to volunteering to support ambulatory efforts, to delivering groceries to the elderly, to providing pet food to people who have lost their jobs, and more. These philanthropic examples are just a snapshot of the work the animal food industry is doing to support the needs of their local communities, employees and customers during this unprecedented time.

At the end of the day – our industry is one that bands together in good times and in bad to support our two-and-four-legged friends in need. We may not be the country's largest industry, but we are definitely one of the mightiest as we join together for a common cause.

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