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Technology can feed the world

Gene Johnston 06/10/2011 @ 9:54am On the scene at the 2012 Cattle Convention, Nashville

If you're in agriculture, your business is feeding people. Take it seriously.

That's the message being delivered by the animal health company, Elanco, to audiences around the world. They've developed a corporate mission to that effect, and this week they brought it to the World Pork Expo in Iowa. Director of sales Rob Aukerman was the presenter, and he reminded pork producers of how easy it is to get so caught up in the day-to-day of running our own businesses, we don't see the big picture: the world needs more food.

By the year 2050, we'll have 9 billion people in the world, nearly 50% more than now, he said. "We'll need 100% more food to feed all of them at an adequate standard," he said. "We might get 20% of that from better management of resources, and 10% from more tillable acres. But 70% of that increase will have to come from efficiency-improving technology. We need to open the door wide to adopting all current and future technology."

Aukerman told the audience that hunger is really the number one health problem in the developing world, and lack of food is responsible for more deaths than war, AIDS, malaria, and TB combined. "It's estimated that 25,000 people die every day from hunger worldwide."

And lest you think it's a problem confined to the Third World, he said there's more hunger in industrialized nations like the U.S. than most people know. "One of five kids in the U.S. deal with food insecurity daily. Even in Iowa, it's one in six kids."

What consumers really think Aukerman took a hard swipe at the elements of U.S. society that would seek to curtail the adoption of technology in the food system. There are a few people who have put up roadblocks in the food chain, and convinced retailers that customers don't want any technology. Elanco is not convinced of that, and commissioned a couple of major studies about consumer attitudes on food. Bottom line: About 95% of consumers buy food on the basis of taste, cost, and nutritional value, in that order. Technology is not a top issue with them. "Another 4% are lifestyle buyers, and they buy food on the basis of luxury, organic, and local issues," he said. "Of course, we can move back and forth between groups at times, and these are not absolutes. But the point is, the 95% are voting positively for technology, or are at least neutral to it. That's what the data says."

The final 1% of consumers are what Aukerman called fringe buyers. They are well-financed, sometimes militant, very patient, and get more attention than they deserve as they call for restrictions on technology in the food system.

Elanco has taken this message to food retailers and others, to show them that most consumers just want quality, affordable food that is good for their families. "It's been well received, and hopefully we've dispelled the myth of where consumers stand on technology. Some of those people [retailers] have made changes to the way they display and label food products." Elanco feels that there are only about 500 people who are the key influencers of the global food chain, and they intend to get to every one of them with this message.

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