You are here

Technology can feed the world

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.

Reasons for hope

Aukerman summarized by saying there are five reasons to be hopeful about the
future for feeding the world:

1) The scientific, economic, social, environmental, and
consumer issues and needs are aligning now.

2) Consumers are making it clear they want their choice of
tasteful, affordable, and nutritious food.

3) There's a relatively small number of people who can
change attitudes.

4) There's a shift in retailer decisions on food technology.

5) There's a new regulatory consistency and predictability
in place now that should pave the way to a record amount of innovation.

Elanco has put their money where their mouth is. Every employee now is given a
half day per quarter away from work to do something with their family to reduce
hunger locally or globally. "In agriculture, we all need to personalize
the issue, experience the need to feed people," Aukerman said. "It
changes the way you think about what you do. Engage the food chain in whatever
circle of influence you have. Support the majority of people who stand up for

Read more about