Tech, choices guide food productionWritten by Heather Hamilton
Denver, Colo. —“We want this industry to thrive, but without the freedom to operate that won’t happen,” stated Elanco Animal Health President Jeff Simons, during the 2010 International Livestock Congress-USA held in conjunction with the National Western Stock show in Denver, Colo.
Simons spoke to attendees about the future of food production and the consequences of some recent choices in parts of the world. He emphasized limiting food related policies and implementing new technology to meet world demand. He also encouraged those in attendance to tell the true story about agriculture and be aware of what consumers want.
“We have as much of a social responsibility as an economic opportunity. One billion out of six billion people go hungry. Saying we have too much meat and milk in the United States is being short sighted,” stated Simons.
He added 250 people globally drive food policy and food choice. As an industry it is possible to make one’s voice heard, and Simons encouraged producers to tell those people what they think.
Simons stated that while everyone hears that in 50 years our world population will require twice the food consumed today, it is rarely mentioned that 70 percent of that food must come from technology. He explained 39 percent of usable land is already in production and only 40 percent can be used to produce food. Water is becoming less available and environmental challenges are increasing, which leaves technology utilization for increasing production.
Technology is defined as three things. First is the question of how it can be done better from a practice perspective. Second is genetics and third is new technologies provided by industry related companies. Utilizing technology can make more food in a more affordable fashion. It can assure food safety and sustainability of the environment according to Simons.
An example of this is seen in U.S. milk production. Today 58 percent more milk is produced from 64 percent fewer cows that in 1944 due to technology. While the U.S. is currently considered to have an abundance of milk, Simons suggests we look at our options.
China currently consumes 100 grams of calcium per person per day and they want to increase that to 300 grams in two years. While Simons thinks that time frame may be short, he said that to meet China’s demand 50 million more dairy cows are needed at current levels of production.
Another example can be found in traditional feeding operations. With available technology feeders use 38 to 40 percent less environmental resources than an organic grass fed operation. It is often a misrepresentation that ‘green’ practices are better for the environment.
Understanding consumer dynamics is also a key when marketing any product. Simons found that seven percent of consumers really worry about agriculture production methods and wanted to know how their food was raised. One percent cited biotechnology as a concern and most assumed meat and poultry products are safe. From 2008 to 2009 affordability went up as a concern.
“When you aggregate the data 95 percent of consumers globally want food, and if they’re on a plant-based diet they want a meat-based diet. We’re the leaders of the business of livestock in the United States so that’s a big deal to us,” said Simons.
“When you go to the grocery store you see people looking at the price tag and the fat content,” said Simons, adding the third and fourth top concerns are affordability and nutrition.
Five percent of those surveyed want a lifestyle choice. While Simons said that’s fine, it isn’t fine when a sliver of that five percent try to turn their luxury into an extreme political choice. “When it turns into food policy it’s wrong. That’s when those directly involved in the industry need to get fired up,” he said.
He uses the United Kingdom as an example of what these small extremists can do to agriculture.
From 2002 to 2007 the U.K. was turned completely around. It was leading in swine genetics, raising broilers faster than anyone and had great husbandry practices. Then BSE rocked the country and consumer confidence plummeted and everything began to spiral. At this time non-governmental organizations (NG0s) took a foothold and started to move their positions to policy.
These policies took the UK from a number one food exporter in Europe in most categories to a net food importer. They can’t feed themselves and they were helping feed Eastern Europe. Farm income is down 71 percent, 60,000 farms are gone and the loss of millions of pounds of meat are a few of the consequences. The new belief is that the UK should be a green tourist country that gets food elsewhere.
“Today Brazil and many other countries are helping feed the UK when they could be feeding somebody else. That’s why we can’t feed ourselves and that’s why there’s a hunger problem,” stated Simons.
He added that there is tremendous economic opportunity for countries like the U.S., but that we have to be extremely careful not to allow NGO policy to occur here. Proposition Two in California is now moving in 11 states and Simons encouraged everyone to speak out against these 250 people attempting to implement social change.
“Don’t let the U.S. become the next UK and let them be an example to us,” stated Simons.
The food production system can mitigate good economic change and technology can be a key tool used to implement positive changes. Simons added that consumers deserve the widest possible variety of safe and affordable food choices and people involved in agriculture have the opportunity to provide those products.