Lansing’s Neogen Delivers Food Safety Worldwide

By Jane Whitttington on April 26th, 2015 / Comments

In 1982, Jim Herbert started Neogen with input from Michigan State University academics and researchers in the newly emerging field of biotechnology. From that small, hopeful beginning, Neogen has grown into an international company with over 1,100 employees, a worldwide reputation for excellence and facilities from East Lansing to Shanghai. Neogen develops, manufactures and markets a line of products dedicated to food and animal safety.

Rod Poland, Director of Corporate Communications, says, “Originally, the company was designed to apply new technologies to the field of food safety. Over time, we have also gone into the animal side of food safety. If the animal’s health is assured, then animal products like meat, milk or eggs will be healthier for the consumer and more profitable for the farmer. We’re the only company in the country that does it all; we are essentially a ‘one-stop shop’ for food and animal safety.”

He says, “The first product was a test for mycotoxins in grain. These can cause illness in those who consume that grain. From that first product, we have developed over 200 diagnostic tests as well as a line of complementary products and services.”

Herbert tells the story. “In 1982, Michigan State was interested in biotechnology. At that time, the only people who knew anything about it were on college campuses. MSU went to Ted Doan, a friend of mine who had been the President of Dow Chemical. He had done a lot to promote entrepreneurialism in Michigan, and MSU thought he would be a great resource in commercializing this new technology. Ted called me and said, ‘You  know, we might be able to make something of this.’ So I left my job and came to Lansing. Ted, MSU and I were the original three shareholders. We negotiated with MSU to use technology under development and to give them equity in the company. As Rod told you, we first started with an MSU professor and a professor from the University of Wisconsin on the test for mycotoxins, specifically in feed intended for chickens. “

The company continued to grow, developing new technologies both internally and through their partnerships with universities, particularly MSU. Herbert explains their continued success and phenomenal growth with one word: foresight. He says, “We could see a time when the issue of food safety would become increasingly important, and we began developing diagnostic tests to address that issue. We were out in front of the wave, and the wave brought us in.”

He continues, “We sell to the end user, and that goes all the way from the genetics of food to the backroom of the restaurant. We are totally integrated to provide solutions in insuring food safety and animal safety.”

Over time, Neogen expanded beyond Lansing. They now have operations in Nebraska, Kentucky, North Carolina, Canada, Scotland, Germany, France, Netherlands, Mexico, Brazil and China.

Their products are all concerned with food and animal safety, but that encompasses a much wider range than might be imagined. Besides diagnostic tests to detect bacterial, spoilage, mycotoxins, food allergens, genetic modification, drug residues, plant diseases and sanitation concerns, they also offer, in the area of animal safety, a complete line of diagnostics, veterinary instruments and pharmaceuticals, nutritional supplements, disinfectants and rodenticides.

They also have a robust business in genomics, which Poland explains this way: “Genomics is the DNA analysis of an animal, taking samples that are called ‘snips’ and are representative of traits. We can then tell the rancher or farmer that if they breed this cow with this bull, we predict what the traits of the offspring will be. It allows the rancher or farmer to optimize the breeding process and get the best offspring for his or her needs. The owner collects the samples from the animals and sends those to us, and we perform the analysis. “

Herbert reports that the recent recession had little or no impact on their business. He says, “Ninety-two of the last 97 quarterly financials were up from the previous quarter. We’re continuing to develop new technologies and new markets. We started very small–$75,000 and two employees. Through a lot of hard work and hiring the right people, we have succeeded.”

Neogen has enjoyed 33 years of success and innovation. As the world’s population grows, the issues addressed by this company will become increasingly important. Neogen will be there to serve the community, a community which now extends throughout the world.

About the Author

Jane Whitttington

Jane Whitttington

Jane Whitttington is a freelance writer and editor who lives in Grand Rapids. A Michigan native and Michigan State University grad, she enjoys reading, travel, politics and volunteering.