Speaker: Technology is critical in addressing world hunger

VIRGINIA BEACH—Shoppers at farmers’ markets enjoy the freshness, taste and quality—and simplicity—of local produce and meats straight from the farm. But farmers can’t feed a growing world population using small-farm technology from a previous century.

A new white paper from animal health product manufacturer Elanco argues that while agribusiness, farmers and consumers should feel free to embrace local food production methods, maintaining and improving the technology behind modern agriculture is critically important.

"We cannot feed an additional 2 billion people, which is where we’re going to be by 2050, … if we don’t embrace new technology," said Ted McKinney, Elanco senior director of corporate affairs. "And by new technology, I mean technology that’s on the farm or technology that’s in the supermarket retail chain. It’s technology up and down that food chain that is going to be essential."

In addition, he noted, modern technology has allowed American farmers to greatly reduce the amount of natural resources needed to produce food.

McKinney told an American Farm Bureau Federation gathering of public relations specialists in mid-June about findings from a two-year Elanco review of public opinions about modern agricultural methods and how consumers feel about their food supply. Those findings, he said, were surprisingly conservative.

"The vast majority—94 percent to 96 percent of consumers—want what they’ve always wanted: taste, cost and nutrition or safety. We found that about 4 percent are more of a lifestyle type of shopper, and they might be folks that are looking for and want organics."

McKinney said that vegans may also fall into that 4 percent group as well as those choosing foods based on religion. "And all that’s terrific," he said. "As a company and as an industry, I hope we embrace these lifestyle buyers."

But lifestyle shoppers should not be the people setting farm policy and dictating their preferences to modern agricultural producers and consumers, McKinney asserted. The research also found that American consumers highly value the right to choose how their food was produced.

"Just as some shoppers want that locally produced, organic farmers’ market-type product, and we embrace that, there are many in the world who cannot afford that," he said. "The example I give is the mom in a consumer survey who gave us feedback that said she felt guilty because she couldn’t afford to purchase all organic products for her kids."

She mistakenly believed, he said, that all the technology that goes into producing modern food is in some way unsafe or inappropriate.

That shows how much some fringe groups have skewed public opinion, he added.

"We believe food is a basic human right. And it should be the right of consumers to choose which foods they eat, and not have their food budget dictated to them."

More information about Elanco’s white paper analyzing public food perception trends is available at elanco.com/news-media.html.

Contact McKinney at 800-428-4441 or Norm Hyde, VFBF communications, at 804-290-11.

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