Greg Van Praagh, chairman of the Pet Food Manufacturers’ Association, talks to pbwnews editor Justine Thompson
1. How do you feel about taking on the role of chairman at PFMA?
It is an honour and privilege. I have enjoyed my first six months representing the industry and working with the team. And what a time it has been! We have had some banter between the PFMA chair team about the environment we have inherited – from the results of the EU referendum to negotiating EU exit and covid-19. The pet food industry is resilient and dynamic, skills that set us in good stead for navigating these current choppy waters.
I am also an optimist at heart and see opportunities in challenge. Recent years have made us think about where we are now and where we want to be and, as a result, I am excited about a number of new PFMA projects we have in the pipeline..
2. Is it significant to the appointment that you have a commercial raw food background?
I am the first PFMA chairman from a commercial raw pet food company, so I feel it is significant. PFMA also leads the way when it comes to the commercial raw sector in Europe. PFMA is the only member of FEDIAF – the European Pet Food Federation – which has a dedicated group for commercial raw producers. Through this group, PFMA has been able to develop best practice guidelines for the sector, working with Defra, FSA, Public Health England and the Animal & Plant Health Agency. We are now working with FEDIAF with the hope of having this best practice adopted at the European level.
3. Can you explain the role of the PFMA as you see it?
The role of PFMA is to support and represent the UK pet food industry – to be the voice. The recent pandemic has shown how vital an effective trade body is when dealing with such challenges. From keeping the industry briefed with weekly calls, to lobbying Government in collaboration with the other pet care organisations to keep pet shops open and pet food factories operating. All this work meant we could continue to feed the nation’s pets and provide for their other essential needs.
The broader animal welfare aspect has been integral to PFMA since its formation 50 years ago. The welfare of both farm and companion animals is important to PFMA, which is why we are a co-sponsor of the All-Party Group for Animal Welfare (APGAW) alongside RSPCA. PFMA is a long-standing coordinator of National Pet Month, which educates on responsible pet ownership.
More recently we have been having discussions on what it means to be a member of PFMA – from the annual Charter we sign to the industry Codes of Practice we follow. Many pet owners will be unaware of this robust backbone for our members and we have been discussing how best to communicate it.
4. What is your vision for the organisation and where it should be heading?
I have always been impressed by the performance of the PFMA and I will ensure that PFMA stays at the top of the game in terms of supporting the membership and being the voice of the industry.
PFMA is currently going through a future-proofing process and analysing the structure and services provided by the Association to ensure it continues to be fit for purpose and meets the needs of members.
We are having exciting discussions around new membership categories, new commercial activities and looking at what it means to be a member of PFMA and how we communicate this to the wider world. This is an area of great interest for me and I look forward to taking this project forward.
5. With covid-19 and Brexit on the horizon, this is a time of unprecedented change for businesses. What part can the PFMA play?
Ensuring the industry rides the waves of Brexit and covid-19 as smoothly as possible. We currently face a very challenging time. There are still many unanswered questions from Government as we lead towards the end of the transition period and face the potential of a no-deal outcome. This coupled with the potential for greater disruption from covid-19 during winter, could create the perfect storm. PFMA is lobbying hard, pushing for a deal in collaboration with the wider pet care community. The number one focus for PFMA is ensuring we continue to feed the nation’s pets in early 2021. Whilst this may sound alarmist, the prospect of a no-deal EU Exit colliding with covid-19 is a significant concern..
6. Why is there a need for an organisation such as PFMA?
The work of PFMA is based on four core pillars that highlight our priorities and what the UK pet food industry is all about – Nutrition & Health, Animal Welfare, Safety & Standards and Sustainability. These pillars push industry to be the best it can and set a high standard for the wider sector to reach. Maintaining standards is vital – now more than ever as we strive to find our place in a new post-Brexit world.
From a lobbying perspective, we know from decades of experience that policy makers want to hear from a single, unified voice. Through PFMA we can achieve this.
7. You also have a seat on the FEDIAF Executive Committee. What does this involve?
This involves representing PFMA and the UK pet food sector. As we come to the end of the transition period and start a new journey, our connection to the EU through FEDIAF will be incredibly important.
8. What would you say to businesses and organisations that might be thinking of joining PFMA?
The PFMA offers an incredible service not only in the time of crisis, but in an ever-evolving and developing world of new legislative constructs and uncertain times. It is an important aspect of risk management for any pet food business. Beyond that, being part of the PFMA gives a company the opportunity to help shape the future direction of the UK pet food industry. The more engaged you are, the more you benefit. I would say if companies are considering membership, the time is now as we lead up to 31 December. Members will have access to weekly update calls, webinars with Defra and technical support and guidance. Do not delay!
9. Are you excited by the prospects of what the PFMA could achieve?
Absolutely. We have the right team and membership in place. We are aligned on our goals and have a clear vision of what we want the immediate future to look like. Turbulent but exciting times.
10. Do you own pets yourself?
We have always had Labradors as family pets but sadly we lost the last one of them late last year, so we are on the hunt for a new family companion now that the dust has settled somewhat. We like to take lots of walks up on the South Downs and also around Ashdown Forest, which is a wonderful place to walk with the dogs.