Agricultural innovations can ensure affordability, supply, safety and sustainability
Does agriculture need technology to help meet the growing worldwide demand for safe, nutritious and affordable food? The answer is a resounding “yes,” according to Jeff Simmons, author of a new white paper titled “Technology’s Role in the 21st Century: Food Economics and Consumer Choice.” In his paper, Simmons provides a comprehensive review of the growing challenge of feeding the world’s population, including both historical data and projections that underscore the absolute necessity for new and existing technologies in food production.
“Already, an estimated 963 million people do not have enough to eat, and by 2050, we will need to produce 100 percent more food than we do now,” says Simmons. “We can’t achieve that by merely adding farmland or increasing crop intensity. But, we can use technology — such as advances in nutrition, disease and pest control, and livestock management — to increase productivity. Having said that, it’s imperative that we use only those innovations that have a neutral or positive effect on the environment; to do otherwise is to sacrifice our long-term survival in favor of short-term gains.”
Grain for food and fuel
Even as we balance the use of agricultural land while minimizing environmental impact, there is pressure to reallocate cropland from growing food to producing grains for biofuels. When U.S. ethanol production began ramping up in 2005, corn was less than $2 per bushel. Within two years, the price had doubled to $4 per bushel, and a year later it peaked at $8 per bushel. The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) projects that about one-third of the 2009 U.S. corn crop will be converted into ethanol.
“Can we raise enough food to feed the world while helping the United States and other nations achieve a higher level of energy independence?” asks Simmons. “Yes, but only as long as we continue to invest in the technologies necessary to make ethanol production, grain production and food production even more efficient.”
The consumer perspective
Simmons also examined consumer attitudes about food safety and found that in a survey conducted by the International Food Information Council in 2008, about half of the respondents were concerned about “disease and contamination,” yet only 7 percent reported that they worried about agricultural production methods. Just 1 percent cited biotechnology as a top-of-mind concern. What consumers want most in their food is high quality and affordability.
As an example, recent polling in the United States, United Kingdom, Germany, Argentina and China identified taste, quality and price as the top considerations when choosing food products. Of these, affordability can be expected to become an increasing concern as the global economy remains in a state of heightened volatility.
“The question of how food is grown became even more relevant in 2008, when the entire world saw pressures on food production accelerate as never before,” says Simmons. “As painful as this increased focus is in industrialized nations, it can be devastating in poor nations where even modest increases in food prices can mean the difference between sustenance and starvation.”
Technological innovation as the solution
Simmons concludes that technology is an important key to meeting the global demand for food and consumer choice for three reasons. First, technology enables food producers to provide more high-quality grains and protein sources using fewer resources. For example, a combination of best-management feeding practices and efficiency-enhancing feed ingredients enables today’s cattle growers to use two-thirds less land to produce a pound of beef as it takes to produce a pound of beef from “all-natural,” grass-fed cattle.
Second, technological innovation can help keep food affordable while ensuring maximum consumer choice — especially in developing nations. While some countries’ well-designed organic systems can provide better yields and profits than traditional systems, on a global scale, organic foods come with a premium that many consumers can’t afford.
Finally, technology can help minimize the global environmental impact of increased food production. For instance, modern beef-production techniques actually reduce greenhouse gas emissions per pound of beef by 38 percent compared with “all-natural” production methods, according to a 2007 study by the Hudson Institute. Moreover, technologies such as livestock feed ingredients can help significantly reduce animal-waste production that threaten vital water resources, particularly in developing nations where modern pollution-control standards are not in use.
Creating an ultimate “win”
Simmons contends that an ultimate “win” is possible if societies focus on creating these five key achievements:
1. Improving the affordability of food by using new and existing technologies, and optimal productivity practices
2. Increasing the food supply by instituting a vastly improved degree of cooperation throughout the entire global food chain
3. Ensuring food safety via a combination of technological innovation, and high-quality standards and systems, along with more worldwide collaboration
4. Increasing sustainability through highly productive, efficient systems that simultaneously protect the environment through sensitive, efficient use of natural resources
5. Producing more biofuels to reduce dependence on fossil fuels while creating no negative effect on global food supplies
“The consequences of failing to use science-based agricultural technologies and innovations will be disastrous,” says Simmons. “Food producers in industrialized and developing nations alike require technology to ensure a sustainable supply of safe, nutritious, affordable grains and animal protein to satisfy the rapidly growing demand. That is why we all share the responsibility to make sure new agricultural technologies — as well as those proven safe and effective for decades — continue to be available.”
Elanco is a global innovation-driven company that develops and markets products to improve animal health and food-animal production in more than 100 countries. Elanco employs more than 2,000 people worldwide, with offices in more than 30 countries, and is a division of Eli Lilly and Company, a leading global pharmaceutical corporation.
To view the white paper and for additional information, visit www.elanco.com.