One of the most discussed — and surprisingly divisive — topics in agriculture today is how food is raised. Whether it's genetically modified, organic or cage free, academics and activists alike are looking for the magic recipe to produce enough food for the growing population while safeguarding human health, animal welfare and the environment.
“Science is the answer, but it has a credibility crisis,” Elanco Animal Health president Jeff Simmons told participants in a recent keynote for Canada Ag Day. “Already, one in three in our world get the wrong nutrition, from malnutrition to obesity, and we’re drastically overusing Earth’s resources. If we’re going to meet a 60% increase in demand for animal protein in the coming years, we have to do things differently.”
The most misunderstood voice in the world today is the farmer, Simmons said to the crowd of farmers, policy-makers, industry leaders and students gathered to celebrate the role of agriculture. “Farmers are humble, hardworking, disciplined people. Most aren’t comfortable in the limelight.”
When consumer interest about how food is grown and raised ramped up in recent years, farmers largely preferred to avoid the attention instead of talking about their craft.
“Instead of boldly telling our story, we, in agriculture, simply reacted to issues. We allowed our practices and innovations to be used as a negative differentiator for marketing purposes. As we look forward, we need to do a better job of explaining how science and innovation can help us meet the world’s growing appetite for protein in a sustainable way,” Simmons said.
“No single food group has the potential to positively impact human health and nutrition like animal protein: meat, milk and eggs,” he added. “Fulfilling this vision means farmers must have access to the best available science and innovation to sustainably meet the growing demand while maintaining food affordability and enhancing animal welfare. We believe we have enough innovation to meet the significant growing demand for meat, milk and eggs and give consumers what they want.”
For the past few years, absence claims or negative label claims have been the leading market trend, creating short-term differentiation for brands. Over time, data show that these labels may be negatively affecting animal welfare and jeopardizing past gains in environmental sustainability.
However, Simmons pointed to an emerging new paradigm in food. Supplies of organic milk, cage-free eggs and antibiotic-free chicken are all exceeding consumer demand because consumers aren’t willing to pay higher prices for the same quality product. The labels were driven by consumers’ desire for transparency. Instead, they’ve created confusion and higher prices. For example, antibiotic-free chickens made up an average of 40.5% of fresh U.S. production, yet only 6.4% of sales were from products sold as such, according recent news from Sanderson Farms.
Looking to the future, Simmons offered a recipe for reinvention to position the industry for long-term success, including:
* Have the courage to become bold, proactive storytellers using a compelling platform that connects the health of animals with the health of people and the planet.
* Become more inclusive of innovation, and position it as a positive differentiator, but also highlight the positive benefits of what’s in food — such as protein — instead of what’s not in food.
* Really understand consumers, what they want and how to adapt to their changing needs.
Simmons also highlighted an exciting future for emerging innovation in animal health as adjacent sectors begin to converge, including biotechnology, feed, diagnostics, the microbiome and others.