Simmons: Food security issues real and imminent

Elanco president Jeff Simmons shares near-term food challenges can be met with innovation.

Food security means when food is a non-issue, and today, that is far from reality, according to Jeff Simmons, president of Elanco.

Simmons, this year's recipient of the Council for Agricultural Science and Technology (CAST) Communication award, said that with all the talk about hunger, we're now at a tipping point of making changes happen.

Simmons shared that seeing a starving child on a UNICEF commercial or hearing 9 billion people by 2050 isn't resonating with people. But instead challenged leaders at the World Food Prize event to shift their thinking and go from crisis mode and talking about the issues to focusing on the solutions of feeding the growing world population.

There's been a lot of focus on the 9 billion, but Simmons said the global middle class will grow to 5 billion by 2050. However, it is the next seven years that will experience the fastest part of that growth with 3 billion people being classified as middle class by 2020.

That will drive significantly different diets, he identified with 60% more meat, milk and eggs needed to feed the world's population by 2050.

"The importance of proteins in emerging middle class is crucial," he said. "Rice and beans alone are not enough."

He also cited a recent study in Kenya which looked at current diets and test scores in children. While switching out calories for the same amount of oil-based calories, test scores dropped 7%. With supplementing milk for some of those calories test scores increased 28%. And when meat was added to diets test scores improved 45%.

And the world will have to do that with fewer resources. "We no longer need to freeze our footprint, we need to reverse it," he said of the 1.5 times the annual resources it takes for annual consumption.

He sees the solution to the problem in innovation, choice and trade.

Experts say 70% of the solution is innovation ranging from fresh water, improving reproduction to the next plant genetics.

Choice is also important, but increasingly at risk. He cited that across the globe 95% of consumers make food decisions based on taste, cost and nutrition. Another 4% are termed luxury buyers where money doesn't matter and purchase items such as organic and local because they desire and can. And the remaining 1-2% are trying to push a social movement.  

He said too much consumer information on their desires is derived from aided questions on surveys as well as customer service/inquiry lines. Instead we should be looking at SKU data and actual supermarket purchases.

"We cannot afford to misinterpret what the consumer wants," he said.

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