Agriculture will need to produce 100 percent more food by 2050 than it does today. And, it will need technology to do it, according to a new white paper by Jeff Simmons, president of Elanco.

“We already have nearly 1 billion hungry people, and that is unacceptable to me,” Simmons said in a conference call with reporters on Monday.

Agriculture needs technology to help meet the growing worldwide demand for safe, nutritious and affordable food, he asserts.

In his paper, “Technology’s Role in the 21st Century: Food Economics and Consumer Choice,” Simmons offers a comprehensive review of the growing challenge of feeding the world’s population, including both historical data and projections that underscore the necessity for new and existing technologies in food production.

“Already, an estimated 963 million people do not have enough to eat, and by 2050 we will need to produce 100 percent more food than we do now,” says Simmons. “We can’t achieve that by merely adding farmland or increasing crop intensity. But, we can use technology, such as advances in nutrition, disease and pest control, and livestock management, to increase productivity. Having said that, it’s imperative that we use only those innovations that have a neutral or positive effect on the environment; to do otherwise is to sacrifice our long-term survival in favor of short-term gains.”

The consumer perspective
Simmons also examines consumer attitudes about food safety and found that in a survey conducted by the International Food Information Council last year about half of the respondents were concerned about “disease and contamination,” yet only 7 percent were worried about agricultural production methods. Just 1 percent cited biotechnology as a top-of-mind concern. What consumers want most in their food is high quality and affordability, he says.

As an example, recent polls in the United States, United Kingdom, Germany, Argentina and China identified taste, quality and price as the top considerations when choosing food products. Of these, affordability can be expected to become an increasing concern as the global economy remains in a state of heightened volatility.

“The question of how food is grown became even more relevant in 2008, when the entire world saw pressures on food production accelerate as never before,” says Simmons. “As painful as this increased focus is in industrialized nations, it can be devastating in poor nations where even modest increases in food prices can mean the difference between sustenance and starvation.

“We have unprecedented challenges and volatility, but we also have unprecedented opportunities,” Simmons adds.

Technological innovation as the solution
Simmons concludes that technology is an important key to meeting the global demand for food and consumer choice for three reasons.

First, technology enables food producers to provide more high-quality grains and protein sources using fewer resources. For example, a combination of best-management feeding practices and efficiency-enhancing feed ingredients enables today’s cattle growers to use about 66 percent less land to produce a pound of beef as it takes to produce a pound of beef from “all-natural,” grass-fed cattle.

Second, technological innovation can help keep food affordable, while ensuring maximum consumer choice, especially in developing nations. While some countries’ well-designed organic systems can provide better yields and profits than traditional systems, on a global scale organic foods come with a premium that many consumers cannot afford.

Finally, technology can help minimize the global environmental impact of increased food production. For instance, modern beef-production techniques actually reduce greenhouse gas emissions per pound of beef by 38 percent compared with “all-natural” production methods, according to a 2007 study by the Hudson Institute. Moreover, technologies such as livestock feed ingredients can help significantly reduce animal-waste production that threaten vital water resources, particularly in developing nations where modern pollution-control standards are not in use.

Creating an ultimate “win”
Simmons contends that an ultimate “win” is possible if societies focus on creating these five key achievements: 

  • Improving the affordability of food by using new and existing technologies and optimal productivity practices.
  • Increasing the food supply by instituting a vastly improved degree of cooperation throughout the entire global food chain.
  • Ensuring food safety via a combination of technological innovation and high-quality standards and systems, along with more worldwide collaboration.
  • Increasing sustainability through highly productive, efficient systems that simultaneously protect the environment through sensitive, efficient use of natural resources.
  • Producing more biofuels to reduce dependence on fossil fuels, while creating no negative effect on global food supplies.

“The consequences of failing to use science-based agricultural technologies and innovations will be disastrous,” says Simmons. “Food producers in industrialized and developing nations alike require technology to ensure a sustainable supply of safe, nutritious, affordable grains and animal protein to satisfy the rapidly growing demand. That is why we all share the responsibility to make sure new agricultural technologies, as well as those proven safe and effective for decades, continue to be available.”

Click here to access the white paper.