Mr. Kendell Keith
CEO, National Grain and Feed Association
Dr. Kendell W. Keith is the top executive staff officer of the National Grain and Feed Association, an organization of more than a thousand companies involved in grain handling, merchandising, processing, feed manufacturing and integrated feeding operations. As chief operating officer, he is responsible for implementing the policies of the Board of Directors and for planning, coordinating and implementing the NFGA’s programs, services and budget. He was vice president and corporate secretary-treasurer of the Association from 1985 to 1987. In that capacity he administered the NFGA’s Trade Rules and Arbitration System. More recently Dr. Keith and NFGA have been deeply involved with matters related to the manner in which biotechnology interfaces with the grain and food industries.
Dr. Keith is a native of Oklahoma. He obtained his B.S., M.S. and PhD. degrees in agricultural economics from Oklahoma State University. He joined the NFGA staff in 1980 as director of economic services. He has a background in a wide range of public policy issues, including government commodity, agricultural policy and storage programs, international trade, domestic grain markets and livestock marketing. He is a member of the American Agricultural Economics Association and the American Society of Association Executives.
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The biotechnology revolution has come to mainstream agriculture in the form of GMOs (Genetically Modified Organisms), and with it, shock waves of adjustment for conventional commodity markets and the grain-based food system that represent agriculture’s primary customers. U.S. agriculture has not been confronted with a problem with such potential for disruption of markets since the embargoes of the 1970s or the misguided acreage idling programs of the 1980s. Further disruptions threaten U.S. agriculture’s ability to serve its diverse customer base. Government approvals and consumer acceptance of GMOs have not come as quickly as the industry would like.
The diverse industry cultures that are now linking to form the “new U.S. food system” come from vastly different perspectives. The grain-food system based in traditional commodities has been highly transparent. Meanwhile, the new biotech/seed industry has placed great emphasis on protection of intellectual property rights and private marketing strategies. Is there a general standard of “right to know” that applies to the grain/food marketing system? Or must the world simply adjust to the “new” U.S. commodity system where agricultural commodities are clearly biotech and customers who want something different have to find a different source? Should the same marketplace disciplines that drive the grain shipper to deliver tight specifications on whole grains and oilseeds apply equally to the seed industry? If not, what needs to change.
It appears that traditional industry strategies need to change. More adjustments need to take place in the biotech/seed industry to avoid governmental regulation. The grain/food industry will not accept the risk of major market-induced shocks from unknown sources that shrink the U.S. customer base. The biotech and seed industries should define the terms of market transparency for their products. Greater transparency has been viewed as a risk by developers of biotech seeds. The risk is thought to be that biotech products will be treated differently in the marketplace. The nature of the commodity marketplace makes it unlikely that conventional and biotech products will be treated alike except under unusual circumstances.
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