Feed Bites

Get to Know AAFCO's Austin Therrell

Written by: Victoria Broehm   |   January 3, 2023

Federal agencies

I recently had the opportunity to speak with the new Executive Director for the Assocation of American Feed Control Officials Austin Therrell on his plans for the industry.

1. Tell us a little bit about yourself –what drew you to wanting to lead AAFCO?

Therrell: I was fortunate to get involved with AAFCO when I was working in the feed regulatory program at the South Carolina Department of Agriculture. AAFCO played a large role in my career and really allowed us to build a strong regulatory program. I wanted to join AAFCO so I can make sure that others have this same experience and opportunity.

2. What do you see as the most pressing challenges facing U.S. animal food regulators today and how do you envision AAFCO working through them?

Therrell: I think two of the most pressing challenges facing U.S. animal food regulators today are the challenging labor market and the increased work load that regulators are facing. AAFCO is a volunteer association, and much of the work that our members do is on top of the work they are already responsible for doing at the state level. There is a lot of institutional knowledge that I believe is disappearing quicker than we can replace, all while the feed and pet food industry continues to steadily grow. That leaves state programs with more products to regulate and often fewer people to do it. I am working to improve and increase the training opportunities that AAFCO has available and working closely with our members to get more people involved and interested in the important work that we do.

3. Likewise, where do you see bright spots for the regulation of U.S. animal food?

Therrell: There are more resources available than ever before. The Food and Drug Administration has made funding available to regulatory programs through the Animal Feed Regulatory Program Standards (AFRPS) program and to laboratories through the Lab Flexible Funding Model (LFFM). These resources make it possible for state programs to update technology and purchase newer laboratory equipment, and ultimately, make it easier and more efficient to regulate U.S. animal food products.

4. The AFIA has a century-old history of meeting with AAFCO. What are some ways that AFIA members can continue contributing to AAFCO’s mission?

Therrell: AAFCO strongly values the working relationship that we have with the American Feed Industry Association. AFIA members provide valuable insight and expertise into problems that come from within the industry and that insight allows us all to work together to come up with innovative solutions. I would encourage all AFIA members to continue to come to our meetings and get involved with our workgroups. The forum that AAFCO provides for industry and regulators to come together is unique and a great example of our two organizations’ collaboration over the last 100+ years.

5. In what ways do you see AAFCO and FDA working together in the future to achieving either regulatory body’s goals?

Therrell: AAFCO and the FDA share similar missions that revolve around safeguarding human and animal health. We work very closely within the scope of the AAFCO-FDA memorandum of understanding to achieve these goals together and promote mutual reliance. Looking ahead to the future, I believe you’ll continue to see us working to improve the efficiency of the AAFCO Ingredient Definition Process and to promote more harmonization and collaboration amongst state members.

6. There are 900+ ingredients on the marketplace, yet the buzz lately has been about hemp, insects and other novel additives with emissions-reduction capabilities. What are your thoughts on getting emerging ingredients like these to the marketplace?

Therrell: I believe getting new feed ingredients to the market is extremely important, especially if they are sustainable and have the potential to positively impact the environment, but it’s equally important that these new ingredients are subject to the same level and rigor of scientific review that’s customary for all other ingredients. I think if the industries around these novel ingredients can work together to collectively share data and put forward detailed new ingredient submissions, then they can get products into the market that will make a big impact.

7. AAFCO’s working group has been working on modernizing pet food labels for years. What progress has been made on that front and what challenges still exist? Do you think we’ll see a new pet food label in the next three years?

Therrell: Yes, I do believe you’ll start to see new pet food labels in the market within the next three years. There has been a tremendous amount of work by AAFCO’s Pet Food Committee, industry advisors and others to complete the process of modernizing the model pet food and specialty pet food regulations. AAFCO posted a draft version of the model regulations for comment in October 2022 and we are currently reviewing those comments to determine if any further edits need to be made. The committee is planning a vote to accept the final model regulations at our midyear meeting in San Antonio, Texas, later this month, and from there, it will move forward for a vote by our general membership. The challenge will be the time that it takes for states to work through their individual rulemaking processes to adopt the updated regulations, but I think it will be within the next three years. 

8. You’ve said your goal is to grow AAFCO’s membership, so that the industry can have a broader international impact in the next 10 years. Why is this important?

Therrell: The more AAFCO’s membership can grow, the more impactful we will be in promoting uniform laws, regulations and standards that make it easier to import and distribute animal food products across the U.S. As the feed industry continues to grow and demand increases, this uniformity is particularly important and will make it easier for the international industry to participate and grow within the U.S. feed sector.

9. Outside of regulating animal food, what do you do for fun?

Therrell: My wife and I have two young boys (ages two and one) so most of our fun, free time is spent with them! I also enjoy hiking, camping and spending time coon hunting with my hounds.

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