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Monday, April 25, 2011

Celebrating Earth Day: Sustainably Feeding a Growing Global Population

By Jeff Simmons, Elanco

According to the World Wildlife Fund Living Earth Index, we're already at 1.3 times our Earth's carrying capacity. And our population is predicted to grow by several billion in the next 40 years. Already 1 in 6, or more than a billion people globally, suffer from malnutrition and hunger. Every day we add another 200,000 mouths to feed to our planet. As we celebrate Earth Day, it's important to consider how we'll feed this growing global population while protecting the resources that sustain us so future generations can feed themselves.

Whether you're an FFA member growing up on a farm like I did, or a concerned environmentalist in a large city, I believe we can all agree on the need for safe, affordable, abundant food. But how do we produce it in a sustainable way? Jason Clay at World Wildlife Fund has said, "To feed 9 billion people and maintain the planet, we must freeze the footprint of food."

I believe there are two key ingredients to making sustainable production of safe, affordable, abundant food a global reality--technology and choice. Technology, as defined by the World Health Organization, includes:

  • Practices--doing it better by the way you do it, whether it's how you raise the animal or grow the plant.

  • Products--new, innovative tools industry is delivering to our food producers daily.

  • Genetics--improving the genetic code of the plant or animal we're producing.

Why technology? Technology creates efficiency, which helps keep production costs and ultimately food costs lower, and food affordability is critical to addressing hunger, especially considering nearly half of our global population lives on less than $2 a day. The U.S. Department of Agriculture's Economic Research Service recently reported that in the past 60 years, agriculture output has increased 2.5 times, while holding inputs essentially steady.

For example, today one cow produces the same amount of milk it took five cows to produce in 1944, which means we need far fewer cows to meet the global demand for milk. Because of this improved efficiency, modern production of every gallon of milk requires 65 percent less water and 90 percent less land than it did in 1944. Meanwhile the industry is producing 76 percent less manure for each gallon of milk sold, contributing to a carbon footprint for a gallon of milk that is 63 percent smaller than it was in 1944. And the story is the same for beef and other animal protein production. We have a track record of using technology in many industries to enhance efficiency.

That brings us to choice, which is a consumer right. Whether it's the Chinese consumer that wants to diversify her diet from grains to include animal sourced protein as her affluence grows, or it's the American consumer who wants to choose locally grown or artisanal products, consumers have the right to a broad variety of food choices. We can't allow a small fringe to impose their social agenda on the entire food system to limit use of safe production practices or products, which would ultimately decrease consumer choice. Technology helps allow these choices.

As spring descends on the heartland of our country, new calves frolic in fresh green pastures and planters roll across rich farm ground. Farmers and ranchers are the original stewards of our Earth, and I believe no one is better suited than our industry to achieve the goal of sustainably feeding a population of 9 billion. As FFA members you are the leaders and visionaries of tomorrow who will be tasked with solutions to this challenge. I encourage you to think about new and different ways to enhance the efficiency of food production. You are also a powerful voice! Speak out for agriculture and help spread this message.

Jeff Simmons, president of Elanco, recently authored a white paper on this topic. To view the paper and accompanying video or share it with your social networks, click here


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