CEO optimistic about technology in feeding billions more

By Jim Webster

© Copyright Agri-Pulse Communications, Inc.



WASHINGTON, May 7, 2014 - Despite the current wave of media fascination with the activists who denigrate modern agricultural production, Elanco CEO Jeff Simmons is optimistic about how technology can meet the challenge of feeding 9 billion people by 2050. He believes that now is “a window of time” for policy to catch up with the demand for more and more efficient food production.

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Since last year, when the Council on Agricultural Science and Technology (CAST) gave him its Borlaug Award for Communication, “I don't know if we've ever had such a good year,” he says. “I can say, since one year ago, there is more technology in the marketplace. With innovations approved and markets expanding, we have more access to markets” and investment in breakthrough areas such as enzymes and analytics is “substantially better than it was a year ago.”

Communicating the benefits of technology in food production means “talking a lot more to people who aren't in our circles,” Simmons says. “We spend too much time communicating with ourselves. Let' make the next year another record year.”

Addressing a seminar sponsored by CAST at the World Bank in Washington last week, Simmons described a new phase in an ambitious communications effort he inaugurated in March 2011 to persuade opinion-makers that most consumers don't pay attention to food-disparaging activists. He said Elanco research continues to show that 95 percent of food buyers care about taste, cost and nutrition, another 4 percent are influenced by lifestyle choices such as local, organic or fair trade and the remaining 1 percent on the fringe are driving the movement to dictate food choices.

Simmons distributed a new 20-page http://www.sensibletable.com/report called “Enough: The fight for a food-secure tomorrow” which he said describes “how we'll feed the world” as the population soars from the present 72 billion. The food security problem can be solved, he said, with innovation in “products, practices and genetics” that help farmers produce food more sustainably; by giving farmers a choice to adopt practices that suit their needs, and consumers the choice of foods “that fit their price, taste and nutritional needs,'' and by fostering trade rules that allow food to move “from the most productive areas to the least.”

Simmons says 40 percent of world gets the wrong nutrition, with people either malnourished or obese. The UN Food and Agriculture Organization says consumers will require 60 percent more protein - meat, milk and eggs - in the next 10 years. “It's coming at us. We need to feed more with less.” Closing the “protein gap” will have to be done with no additional environmental impact, he adds. “I don't think it's changing diets or population control, it's innovation. We don't need any more animals. We can get 60 percent more” from existing numbers.

The message of the critics - in such productions as Chipotle's “Farmed and Dangerous” videos - is “no meat for you,” Simmons said. “If you've climbed into the middle class, you don't want to hear that.”

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