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More in­no­va­tion - not more an­i­mals - key to food se­cu­rity

On 31 Oct 2011, the world’s pop­u­la­tion shot past the 7-bil­lion mark on its way to reach­ing 9 bil­lion or more by the year 2050. In the next few decades, de­mand for an­i­mal pro­tein will climb 60% as pop­u­la­tion in­creases and the global mid­dle class ex­pands by three bil­lion peo­ple. We’re al­ready overus­ing the Earth’s re­sources, con­sum­ing about 1,5 times the nat­u­ral re­sources we should use in a year. De­liv­er­ing safe, suf­fi­cient, af­ford­able pro­tein to feed the grow­ing pop­u­la­tion has never been at greater risk. Right now, based on our cur­rent pro­duc­tion trends, nearly half the globe - 4,5 bil­lion peo­ple - won’t meet their nu­tri­tional needs by 2040.


This is ac­cord­ing to a food se­cu­rity report re­leased by the ENOUGH move­ment, which is com­mit­ted to build­ing a food-se­cure world by 2050. Elanco, a global in­no­va­tion-driven com­pany that de­vel­ops and mar­kets prod­ucts to im­prove an­i­mal health and food an­i­mal pro­duc­tion in more than 75 coun­tries, spear­heads the ENOUGH move­ment.

Elanco South Africa’s Re­gional Di­rec­tor An­dre Wester­veld says that food se­cu­rity is of­ten mis­un­der­stood.

“While it’s of­ten as­so­ci­ated with ex­treme hunger, it’s much more than this. Lack of food se­cu­rity hap­pens in ur­ban cities and farm­ing com­mu­ni­ties, de­vel­oped coun­tries and un­de­vel­oped na­tions. Peo­ple face the daily is­sue of ac­cess to enough food, and enough of the right foods. While the spec­trum of food se­cu­rity may start with hunger, it in­cludes de­vel­op­ment of bod­ies, brains and coun­tries, and ul­ti­mately be­comes about the daily food de­ci­sions trade-off de­ci­sions about whether to buy a car­ton of milk or a bot­tle of soda be­cause soda is more af­ford­able than milk. Those who hold the keys to the so­lu­tion, those in de­vel­oped na­tions who don’t have the daily chal­lenge of food and the right food, are of­ten dis­con­nected from the size and spec­trum of the is­sue. A food-se­cure world is one in which ev­ery­one can af­ford and ac­cess an ad­e­quate quan­tity and qual­ity of food.”

De­creas­ing re­source use

Amid the food se­cu­rity de­bate, there’s also the very real and wor­ry­ing is­sue around the sus­tain­abil­ity of our re­sources. Ac­cord­ing to the World Wildlife Fund, the Earth takes 1,5 years to re­gen­er­ate the re­new­able re­sources we use in a sin­gle year. On 20 Aug 2013, we crossed the line where an­nual re­source con­sump­tion ex­ceeded the planet’s abil­ity to re­plen­ish. In eight months, we ex­hausted the nat­u­ral re­sources that should last all year, and ev­ery year that date is mov­ing up by a few days.

“On this course, by 2030 we’ll re­quire dou­ble the planet’s re­sources to meet our needs. The ab­so­lute and un­de­ni­able re­al­ity is that we have to pro­duce more, and do it with less. This can only be done through in­no­va­tion in food pro­duc­tion,” says Wester­veld.

Ac­cept­ing In­no­va­tion

Through­out his­tory, the world’s big­gest prob­lems have been solved through

in­no­va­tion. It’s cel­e­brated in vir­tu­ally ev­ery sec­tor of the econ­omy. So why is in­no­va­tion ques­tioned when it’s linked to food? In the past 60 years, a wide range of in­no­va­tions in agriculture have al­lowed farm­ers to pro­duce more while bet­ter car­ing for the an­i­mals and de­creas­ing en­vi­ron­men­tal im­pact.

“There’s no deny­ing in­no­va­tion’s im­proved food pro­duc­tion - ad­vances in an­i­mal health and san­i­ta­tion, dis­ease de­tec­tion, an­i­mal nu­tri­tion, an­i­mal com­fort, ar­ti­fi­cial in­sem­i­na­tion and ge­netic im­prove­ments, vac­cines, par­a­site con­trol, an­i­mal hous­ing and pro­duc­tiv­ity op­ti­mi­sa­tions,” says An­dre.

Aalt Di­jkhuizen, from the Wa­genin­gen Univer­sity & Re­search Cen­tre in the Nether­lands best en­cap­su­lated the need for in­no­va­tion in food pro­duc­tion when he said: “Sus­tain­able global food se­cu­rity is at­tain­able if we have open minds on tech­nol­ogy and fo­cus on high pro­duc­tiv­ity and ef­fi­ciency. We can­not feed to­mor­row’s world with yes­ter­day’s tech­nol­ogy.”

Why more In­no­va­tion is key

Cur­rent per capita milk pro­duc­tion around the world isn’t meet­ing ba­sic nu­tri­tional needs. The ENOUGH move­ment as­sem­bled a team of re­searchers to study this is­sue. In­forma Economics and Global Agritrends val­i­dated the model. The find­ings of the 2013 Global Food For­ward Anal­y­sis es­ti­mate that based on our cur­rent pro­duc­tiv­ity path, we won’t even have ac­cess to a glass of milk a day on av­er­age by 2020.

By ap­ply­ing to­day’s tech­nol­ogy to add just half a glass more per cow, dairy pro­duc­ers could an­nu­ally save 66 mil­lion cows; 747 mil­lion tons of feed; 1,570,180 sq. km. of farm­land – roughly the size of Alaska; and al­most 2,4 tril­lion litres of wa­ter the an­nual do­mes­tic use of Ger­many, France and the UK com­bined.

The 2013 Food For­ward Anal­y­sis also ex­am­ined the global egg in­dus­try, find­ing a star­tling ex­am­ple of what hap­pens when in­no­va­tion is pro­hib­ited. More than a decade of dis­ease, so­cial pres­sures and in­creas­ing reg­u­la­tions on safe, proven prac­tices have dropped global hen pro­duc­tiv­ity nearly an egg/hen/year af­ter decades of in­creases. On the cur­rent path, we’ll need 12.6 bil­lion birds - nearly dou­ble to­day’s 6.4 bil­lion - plus the mas­sive re­sources to sup­port them to meet de­mand in 2050.

“We’re con­flicted as a so­ci­ety in our sup­port of in­no­va­tion and tech­nol­ogy that al­lows farm­ers to grow more food us­ing fewer re­sources. All con­sumers have a right to ex­pect safe food pro­duced re­spon­si­bly, and in­dus­try has a re­spon­si­bil­ity when it comes to defin­ing re­spon­si­ble and sus­tain­able pro­duc­tion. We have to in­vest the time, en­ergy and re­sources to bet­ter un­der­stand the im­pact of tech­nol­ogy in food se­cu­rity in the con­text of peo­ple, an­i­mals and the planet. There may be far too many un­in­tended con­se­quences of rash de­ci­sions on a tra­jec­tory that is not so much a given, as it is a warn­ing to change and in­no­vate in how we pro­duce and man­age our agri­cul­tural re­sources,” Wester­veld concludes.

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