Elanco president Jeff Simmons recently warned global leaders that food productivity is not keeping pace with food demand. In advance of the G8 summit, Simmons noted, it is imperative to understand that Earth faces an enormous food security threat in the immediate future. Food inflation combined with inadequate gains in productivity are clear indicators that our ability to feed a rapidly growing population is at serious risk without swift action, he said during a panel discussion with senior global leaders at the Chicago Council on Global Affairs Symposium “Advancing Food and Nutrition Security at the G8 Summit” in Washington.

Simmons, who heads this animal health division of Eli Lilly, urged leaders to take action now to address the challenge of developing more efficient food production systems and pressed for policy alternatives that provide long-term, sustainable solutions to hunger, food inflation and food availability.

“Currently, nearly 1 billion people cannot afford 1,880 calories a day and almost 3 billion live on less than $2 a day. These observations show that the time is now to make decisions that support the world’s growing food needs,” said Simmons. “We’re already facing significant challenges to our food system. They must be addressed today.”

According to the 2011 World Livestock Report issued by the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), by the end of the decade, the world will need to produce 20 percent more meat and poultry than we do today — with two-thirds of the need coming from developing countries. By 2050, demand is expected to grow by about 75 percent. Simmons used new predictions to illustrate the impact such demands could have on our food system.

Specific to dairy, Simmons noted that per capita milk availability is declining despite production growth having nearly doubled in the past 50 years. This is because populations are growing faster than production gains. In 1950, each person had access to 14 percent more milk than in 2010, he noted.

The adoption of existing and emerging innovation to dairy production can help accelerate milk productivity to align population and demand growth, Simmons told attendees. For example, China is targeting a near doubling of per capita milk availability by the end of the decade. Without significant improvements in productivity, this will require 15 million additional cows and a doubling of the feed and water resources currently used.

“Given the right policy environment and access to appropriate technologies, I believe global agriculture can meet these productivity challenges,” Simmons said. “If you take the United States for example, in the past 60 years agricultural output has increased 250 percent while inputs have remained nearly stable.”

Simmons urged leaders to take action now and emphasized three clear priorities for overcoming barriers in inspiring progress and enabling people’s access to safe, affordable food today:

  1. Innovation: It is important to invest in innovative technologies that drive efficient food productivity to meet the growing needs of a rapidly expanding population. Innovation must start with consistent, science-based regulatory processes and public and private support is needed to assure that innovation has the ability to enter the market.
  2. Choice: Every country, family and mother deserves the right to make their own choices about the food they feed their families and not live by the choices of others — particularly when those choices impact their children’s food. Whether it’s a Chinese citizen who wants to add more dairy to the diet as they grow in affluence, or the American consumer that prefers a luxury option, we must not make decisions that limit access to safe protein that meets consumers’ needs.
  3. Food Trade: As the demand for meat, milk and eggs grows, the challenge is recognizing the impact a global market has on developing counties. Barriers to trade impact availability, inflation and the price of food. Leaders should consider the global impact of policies outside their borders.

The panel also included Jack Sinclai, Wal-Mart; Hugh Grant, Monsanto; Sam Dryden, Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation; Dyborn Chibonga, National Association of Smallholder Farmers of Malawi; and Janet Chigabatia, Savanna Farmers Market Co.