COMPANIES all along the food supply chain are on the front lines of addressing the challenges associated with a changing climate, a growing population and other threats to a stable food supply.
Many companies are already dealing with the impacts of weather variability and supply chain disruptions while also tackling higher and more volatile costs and an increasingly global customer base.
However, these challenges also present opportunities to drive change in the market, and these companies are on the leading edge of this change, in addition to meeting the needs of a consumer base that's hungry for information.
The Bipartisan Policy Center (BPC) hosted leading food and agriculture chief executive officers at its recently launched CEO Council on Sustainability & Innovation to discuss the rationale behind their innovative approaches to achieving a sustainable future.
In a recent forum, the CEOs of Elanco, Kellogg Co. and Land O'Lakes talked about ways they're looking across the supply chain to improve sustainability and meet the growing needs of the world's population.
Elanco, a global animal health company, has long spoken about the global implications and realities of food security and ways to take action. Elanco recently launched a new interactive digital report at ENOUGHmovement.com.
Considering the projected increase in demand for animal protein, the new ENOUGH Movement looks critically at how the current trend of adding more animals creates an unsustainable model that's ill-equipped to support population growth. It also explores potential solutions that can not only increase efficiency but safeguard animal welfare in an environment where emerging diseases are a threat.
"Humanity is using the resource equivalent of 1.6 earths a year, and that's just not sustainable for the next generation," Elanco Animal Health president Jeff Simmons said. "Never has there been more urgency around discussing food security: As the Earth's population is estimated to reach 9.7 billion in 2050, experts say that will mean a 60% increase in demand for meat, milk and eggs (Infographic). Adding more animals isn't the answer. We need innovative solutions and collaboration to move the discussion forward."
The "ENOUGH" report is anchored in sustainability and focuses on four key pillars: innovation, choice, access and nutrition.
During the BPC panel discussion, Simmons noted that 90% of meeting the overall global milk, meat and egg demand has entailed adding animals, but that can't continue. In fact, he said beef and egg production have actually taken steps backward in efficiency.
Simmons noted that 4-5% of the population is making 50% of the social media noise that's driving food policy. The problem with catering to extreme consumers is that it could stop innovation. The challenge is to give consumers what they want but not allow productivity to reverse.
The solution is to take the higher road and see what can be done to shape policy and opinions as well as give consumers what they want long term, he explained.
Simmons made the bold statement that while using antibiotics as livestock growth promotants can no longer be justified, until the next innovation is in place, it's important to still have healthy animals.
"I do believe we can live in a world without antibiotics," Simmons said, noting that Elanco has 25 candidates in its pipeline that include enzymes or animal-only antibiotics that will help create healthy and more productive animals.
"We have to stimulate more innovation," Simmons emphasized. "We need another Green Revolution and need to catalyze that through the lens of what the consumer wants."
Chris Policinski, president and chief executive officer of Land O'Lakes, said agriculture ought to celebrate the fact that consumers are interested in where their food comes from and should engage consumers.
"We need to enrich the discussion about food and make it much more robust and fact based," Policinski said.
Two generations ago, approximately 25% of Americans were tied to agriculture. Today, only 1.4% of Americans farm. However, today's farmers are able to produce 2.5 times the amount of food using the same input levels.
"That's a great productivity and sustainability story, but we don't tell it to anyone else besides ourselves," he pointed out.
Policinski said farmers finally may be reaching a tipping point where they're no longer looking at some of these buzzwords — such as "sustainability" — as threatening but instead seeing it as a great opportunity to show what sustainability means from their view. He explained that authentic sustainability is using safe, proven technologies.
Corn production, for example, has increased 6.5 times on 13% fewer acres versus 40 years ago.
"Farmers are the original entrepreneurs and are adopting technology, mechanization and techniques — including today's biotechnology — that allows them to grow a crop with less," Policinski said.
John Bryant, Kellogg chairman and CEO, said the food industry has a great story to tell about how foods are made. Kellogg has launched an online resource called "Open for Breakfast" (www.openforbreakfast.com) where consumers can ask questions about what goes into foods, how food is sourced and actions the company is taking to make improvements. By increasing transparency and availability of information, consumers can better understand where their food comes from.
Kellogg also helped shine a light on farmers' stories and how they care deeply about their farms, soils and sustainability. "That is impactful and powerful with consumers," Bryant said.
Policinski said a key reason the U.S. has one of the safest and most affordable food supplies is the orderly regulatory environment for farmers and food manufacturers that is based on facts and science.
Consumers mustn't pick and choose what science they want. "Food is too important to allow emotion, nostalgia or any other agenda other than fact and science ... to dictate how we produce and market safe and affordable food," Policinski said.
Simmons added that his biggest worry is that perceptions will get ahead of the science.
"We can give consumers what they want, but the pace of that is important," he said, explaining that if non-science-based decisions slow the pace of innovation or productivity in the U.S., it can have a cascading effect around the world.