Hunger, Climate Change, Loneliness: Are Healthy Animals the X-Factor?

Elanco Animal Health CEO says animals are the x-factor society has been looking for – the unexpected, game-changing variable that will unlock solutions to seemingly disconnected issues. ( Jennifer Shike )

Could animals be the x-factor our society needs to solve some of its greatest challenges? Elanco Animal Health CEO Jeff Simmons said he believes healthier animals hold the key to unlocking solutions for the mental, physical and environmental health struggles society faces today.

“Our business is built on the belief that animals are the x-factor society has been looking for – the unexpected, game-changing variable that we believe will unlock solutions to seemingly disconnected issues,” Simmons said during a press conference at the Elanco global headquarters in Greenfield, Ind., on Wednesday. 

On Sept. 20, Elanco celebrates its first anniversary of becoming an independent public company. Over the past year, the company added new innovation to its pipeline in the areas of vaccines, enzymes and oncology. 

“It's a surprising idea to some that cats, cows and chickens hold real solutions to today's biggest issues. It also means that farmers and veterinarians have never been more increasingly important than they are today,” he said. “We at Elanco have challenged ourselves to pause as a new independent company, to rethink our relevance at this one-year anniversary. Our commitment going forward is to galvanize around Elanco’s healthy purpose, our corporate social responsibility framework.”

Elanco is joining critical conversations about food and nutrition security, human emotional and physical well-being and the sustainability of the planet, and sharing the importance of helping animals lead healthier lives. 

Animal agriculture is more relevant than ever, Simmons said, digging into the controversial headlines that Elanco plans to invite discussion on from alternative proteins and African swine fever to mental health and the environment. 

Hunger – A Confusing Challenge
One in four people suffer from “hidden hunger,” which means they aren’t getting the right nutrients. In a world where 821 million people are hungry and 13% of adults are obese, the hunger challenge couldn’t be greater.

“We have more information than ever about what it takes to be healthy, but we’ve never been more confused,” Simmons said. 

The crux of the issue is the lack of availability and access to healthy food and in some cases, a lack of knowledge of what healthy foods are. If the right food isn’t available or it’s too expensive, then the wrong food is consumed and the imbalance happens. 

“Animal proteins like meat, milk and eggs provide a substantial amount of nutrients essential to a healthy life, including physical cognitive development,” he said. “It can also reduce the risk of health issues like obesity and diabetes.”

For example, as China’s meat consumption skyrocketed, the average height of a 9-year-old boy grew 3.5 inches in the last 25 years, Simmons said. 

Rediscover Life Beyond Devices
In addition to the physical health challenges facing society today, social isolation and anxiety are on the rise. In fact, one in five millennials in America say they are lonely and have no friends.

Companion animals play a critical role in helping humans live healthier lives. Being disconnected from society poses huge health dangers, comparable to smoking 15 cigarettes a day and is more predictive of early death. 

Research has shown that pets can make a difference and can serve as a catalyst for strengthening human relationships in neighborhood settings. Simmons said 40% of pet owners have connected with neighbors. Connection results in improved mental health.

“Loneliness impacts a lot of things,” he said. “It’s time we rediscover life, beyond our devices, and healthy animals can help us do that. Our pets’ ability to improve mental and social health is powerful.” 

Pets are part of solving some of society’s struggles. Simmons said one of the reasons for the Bayer acquisition was to triple their international pet business, allowing the company to be 50% pets and 50% livestock. 

“If our pets live longer, healthier lives, we will as well,” he said. 

The Farm of the Future
Contrary to popular mainstream opinion, Simmons said science shows that animals are uniquely positioned to move our world forward in a more sustainable way. It’s important to note that 60% of the world’s agricultural land is unsuitable for planting fruits, vegetables and crops, but it is suitable for raising animals.

“We can create a sustainable environment,” Simmons said. “Animals are the original recyclers. 86% of the feed livestock eat is made of materials that humans don’t or can’t consume. Cattle in the U.S. eat approximately 90% of inedible byproducts and leftovers from industries such as human food, fiber and biofuel production, converting them into healthy milk and meat.”

After visiting with visionary farmers and environmentalists throughout the last six months, Simmons believes it’s possible for the farm of the future to achieve carbon net zero greenhouse gas emissions. 

“So while popular opinion points to livestock as part of the environmental problem, we have to start viewing healthy animals for being essential to the solution. We have a chance to make a major impact on some of the world’s biggest issues and it starts with animals, healthier animals. Healthy animals are a not a ‘nice to have in the world,’ they are a must-have in order to go headfirst into society’s biggest issues, addressing why they can be.”

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