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Banff Pork Seminar 2012

Technology, 'fighting the fringe' key to pork industry progress

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Date posted: January 19, 2012

Jeff Simmons

The pork industry needs to fight against 'the fringe one percent' and champion technology to create a more prosperous industry and - more important - a better and more sustainable world, says Jeff Simmons, President of Elanco Animal Health.

It's lofty stuff, but it's also reality, he says. And the sooner pork producers and other livestock industry players realize just how critical their role is, the better they can become the leaders the world needs to truly drive progress.

"You are the leaders," says Simmons, speaking at the Banff Pork Seminar, attended by over 600 industry players from across North America and around the globe. "You need to believe more and know where you fit in this global issue. You're dealing with the greatest issue this century. Have pride in what you do."

Feeding tomorrow's world – the theme of the 2012 Seminar - may seem like a complex problem, says Simmons. But when it's boiled down, the challenge and the solution become very clear.

"My father always says if you can't go into a coffee shop and tell it on a napkin you can't tell it. The napkin speeches are what we need when we talk about our industry and what we do."

The reality is simple – food is an issue for half the world's current population of 7 billion and that number is projected to hit 9 billion within the next four decades. Simmons has a napkin-speech based around three numbers that sums up what's at stake and what's needed. He calls it the "50-100-70" speech.

"In the year 2050, the world will require 100 percent more food and 70 percent of this food must come from efficiency-improving technology," he says.

There is increasing awareness of the 50 /100 part, but not many people know about the 70 percent solution, he says. "Nobody talks about the 70. And that's a number from global organizations such as FAO and WHO, supported by economists the world over. All the knowledge out there says technology is where 70 percent of the doubling has to come from."

Industry needs to lead

That's a message that needs to get out, and no one is better equipped or more needed to deliver it that people within the livestock industries who represent the means by which it can happen, he says.

"We can boil it down our message to four words: safe, abundant, affordable food. That's what we're about and what we work on every day."

The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, for one, has stated that farm productivity is the beginning of the solution to feeding the world and alleviating both poverty and hunger, he says.

More than plant-based

It's not just about plant-based food. "There's greater demand now on the meat side than the plant side. The data shows there are 3 billion people every day that are trying to shift more from plants, more from rice and get milk, meat and eggs. It's a huge demand driven heavily by rising GDPs, and it's not in the population that's coming, it's in the population that's here right now."

So where do the perceptions come from that people don't want more technology applied to food, that vegetarianism is on the rise and that more precautionary constraints are needed on technology innovations?

Simmons says a lot of information comes from flawed surveys and the voices of a small minority becoming overblown. The best science-based data in fact shows 95 percent of consumers are food buyers who are either neutral or supportive of using efficiency-enhancing technologies to grow food. Another four percent are "lifestyle buyers" who choose foods based on lifestyle factors such as ethnicity or vegetarianism. Only a tiny percentage wants to eliminate food choices by banning specific agricultural technologies or methods.

"We can't allow ourselves to get thrown off by the fringe one percent," says Simmons. "The vast majority of consumers want safe, affordable, tasty food, and choice in what they purchase."

Stand up, speak up

Another napkin speech is this – livestock industries stand for "three rights,' he says: food, choice and sustainability. "Tell it the coffee shop. Tell it to your neighbor. We also need to take these messages forward at the big, global level."

A silver lining of the global recession is that it has brought more logic to the global food system, says Simmons. "It makes it easier to see what's important."

The time is ripe for livestock industries to be active, outspoken leaders in addressing the food issue and championing technology solutions, he says. "This is not a time to let up. We need to be more activist-like in our thinking and engage in the debates that are out there in all corners. When you consider what's at stake, I say 'bring it on.'"

Too aggressive? Not at all, he says. "One thing about activists: their fire is hot. We need to be activists too."

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