Food Industry “Activist” Simmons Supports Technology to Combat Hunger

“More people around the world live with food issues than don’t,” Elanco Animal Health President Jeff Simmons told a packed audience at yesterday’s USMEF Strategic Planning Conference in Indianapolis. “Moving more meat, milk and eggs around the world is one of the top ways to deal with food insecurity.”
Elanco Animal Health President Jeff Simmons addresses the USMEF Strategic Planning Conference in Indianapolis

Elanco Animal Health President Jeff Simmons addresses the USMEF Strategic Planning Conference in Indianapolis

The challenge of effectively dealing with the problem of global hunger can be handled in large part through the use of technology, stated Simmons, who noted that even in the affluent United States, an estimated eight of 10 inner city children in Indianapolis rely on free breakfasts and lunches to meet their nutritional needs.

The prospect of feeding the additional two billion people expected to be added to the Earth’s population by the year 2050 will be an insurmountable challenge, Simmons believes, if the world does not utilize innovation and technology to create the efficiencies necessary to grow more food.

Simmons stated that an outspoken one percent of the population opposes the use of technology to create solutions to the hunger crisis that claims an estimated 25,000 lives per day – more than any disease. It is that small minority, however, that he believes get disproportionate attention with their demands for food bans and restrictions on the use of innovative technologies to expand the food supply.

“What you do really matters,” Simmons told the USMEF audience, citing agronomist and Nobel laureate Norman Borlaug by stating: “food is the moral right of all who are born into this world.”

Simmons was joined on the meeting agenda by Joseph Kelsay, director of the Indiana State Department of Agriculture, who echoed Simmons’ statements.

“It is our moral obligation to provide sustenance to people around the world,” said Kelsay, who lauded the State of Indiana’s 256 percent growth in the export of live animals and meats between the year 2000 and 2008, reaching $371.6 million.

USMEF President and CEO Philip Seng’s address to the audience touched on the challenges to the U.S. agriculture sector in maintaining the current level of exports without an approved Farm Bill, which would provide funding both for the USDA Foreign Agriculture Service (FAS) as well as the Market Access Program (MAP) and Foreign Market Development (FMD) program that support U.S. agricultural exports.

“If a new Farm Bill is not passed during the upcoming legislative lame duck session, there will be severe impacts on USMEF and all of the other 80 organizations that contributed to the $141 billion in U.S. agricultural exports in 2011,” Seng told the audience. “Now that the presidential election is over, we need you to prevail on your congressmen through any means possible to ensure that the Farm Bill is passed soon.”

Seng also discussed challenges the U.S. agricultural sector is facing from competitors like the European Union, which is aggressively working to win global converts to its approach to agriculture that opposes adoption of proven food safety and production enhancing technologies.

“The EU is aggressively pursuing trade agreements with South Korea, China, Japan and others, but these agreements are not just about trade,” said Seng. “They’re part of an effort by the EU to proselytize or convert others to the EU approach to agriculture technology and biogenetics…If you can’t compete on quality, you find another way to negate your competitor.”

USMEF’s Strategic Planning Conference continues today and Friday with presentations by USMEF’s international directors and industry sector meetings. On Friday, Purdue University Professor Dr. Chris Hurt will speak on the impact of the 2012 drought.