Technology is key to a safe, abundant and affordable food supply, unrestricted consumer choice and environmental sustainability.
By Jeff Simmons
As the U.S. growing season gets underway, a wave of food insecurity threatens more than 1 billion people around the world. Global food costs are rising to dangerous levels and projected to continue increasing. In the past two years, a global economic recession has decreased consumers’ buying power while increasing the number of chronically hungry and food insecure people. After decades of decline, the number of hungry people in the world is increasing.
A few years ago I wrote a paper about the urgent need to produce more food. While time has passed, the urgency of the situation has accelerated. Between 2008 and 2010, more than 18 million people died from hunger. That’s the equivalent of a jumbo jet falling out of the sky each and every day.
Will the world allow the devastation of hunger to continue, or will we tackle this problem with solutions that already exist? Since the Green Revolution, producers have been using technology to increase production and make food more affordable. But consumers don’t want technology used in food production. Right?
In 2010, Elanco commissioned a review of consumer food buying attitudes and behaviors from around the world. The researchers looked at studies that only used unaided questions or actual consumer spending data to minimize bias. The International Consumer Attitudes Survey (ICAS) evaluated 27 studies that met the researchers’ criteria. The Nielsen Company validated these findings in late 2010. All told, the research reflected the attitudes and buying behaviors of more than 97,000 consumers in 26 countries.
ICAS findings revealed:
• 95% of consumers are Food Buyers who purchase foods based on taste, cost and nutrition. They are neutral or supportive of using efficiency-enhancing technologies to grow food.
• 4% of consumers are Lifestyle Buyers who purchase foods largely based on lifestyle factors such as luxury, gourmet, organic, locally grown or other types of products.
Food Buyers and Lifestyle Buyers overlap in many areas and are not distinct segments. In 2010, barcode scanner data showed 75% of the conventional food buyers also made lifestyle purchases, specifically organic foods. Few, however, purchase only organic products.
Despite consumers’ acceptance of modern agricultural technology, a small fringe group continues to perpetuate the modern myth. They participate in protests to “protect” consumers from modern food production. To put it simply, 99% of consumers care about what they eat; 1% care about what I eat.
It’s time to end the debate. Ensuring access to safe, proven, efficiency-enhancing technologies ensures “three rights” for all consumers:
1) Food is a human right. Every child born on this Earth has the right to be fed. Technology creates a more abundant, more affordable food supply.
2) Choice is a consumer right. As ICAS revealed, 99% of consumers want unrestricted choice in the food chain. Technology supports choice.
3) Sustainability is an environmental right. We will not be able to feed future generations if we neglect today’s environmental resources. Technology allows farmers to feed more people, while consuming fewer natural resources and generating less animal waste.
As a producer, how can you support the three rights?
• Make it personal. Step out of your bubble and examine what hunger looks like in your own community.
• Engage. Inform your network that the majority of consumers are comfortable with technology use in food production.
• Support. Support the 99% of the world’s citizens who want unconstrained choice. Ask fringe groups looking to eliminate choice to prove their assertions using sound scientific data, which they can share with regulatory bodies.
Today, producers stand at a crossroads. With food supplies tight and input prices increasing, now is our window of opportunity to expose the myth and support access and choice.
• Jeff Simmons is president of Elanco. Access a copy of his new white paper, “Making safe, affordable and abundant food a global reality,” at www.plentytothinkabout.org/threerights.