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By Staff | Jun 17, 2011

Rob AUkerman, president of Elanco animal Health, told an audience at the World Pork Expo on June 8 that technology is the key to meet the growing demands for food and alleviating food safety fears growing worlodwide.

DES MOINES- Dispelling the myths that threaten modern food production shouldn’t be an afterthought for farmers and other ag professionals – it must be a priority, according to one industry leader.

“We’re at a critical point in history,” said Rob Aukerman, president of U.S. operations for Elanco Animal Health, who spoke at the 2011 World Pork Expo in Des Moines. “As more pressure is put on the global food system, from record oil prices to food security fears, technology remains the vital ingredient to make a safe, affordable, abundant food supply a reality.”

By 2050, the world’s population is projected to reach 9 billion people. Global food production will need to double to meet this demand, and 70 percent of this food must come from technology that improves production efficiencies, said Aukerman.

He acknowledged that technology is a dirty word in some circles. The most common objection Elanco leaders have heard meeting with executives from every major U.S. supermarket chain is, “They all say, ‘Our customers don’t really want technology and prefer food that was raised with systems like those that were used 60 years ago,'”Aukerman said.

“We share credible data that challenges this assumption, however, and this message is resonating with retailers.”

“Get involved in your community to bring awareness to childhood hunger issues.” —Rob Aukerman President, Elanco Animal Health

Consumers’ choices

Elanco leaders presented the International Consumer Attitudes Study, which reflects 28 studies in 26 countries with more than 97,000 consumers from 2001 to 2010. Consumers were asked unaided questions, such as “How do you make your food selections at the meat case?”

The questions were followed up with consumers’ actual spending patterns.

“The data show that 95 percent of consumers make their food choices based on taste, cost and nutrition,” Aukerman said. “Factors like farmers’ production practices and locally-grown products aren’t major issues with the sizeable majority of consumers.”

Aukerman acknowledges, however, that 4 percent of consumers are “lifestyle buyers,” meaning they prefer to purchase luxury/gourmet foods, organic products and locally-grown items.

“This is an important niche that gives consumers choice, but it should not drive decisions on food production and technology,” he said.

The remaining 1 percent of consumers in the study represent the fringe and include activists who are focused on food bans and political action like Proposition 2 in California, which would have required that egg-laying hens, veal calves and pregnant sows have room enough to lie down, stand, turn around, and fully extend their limbs.

“This 1 percent is very vocal, well financed and patient, and they turn things into ‘good food, bad food’ issues that takes choices away from the majority of consumers,” Aukerman said. “That’s why we need to be more vocal about telling our story and helping dispel the misconception that consumers are overly concerned about food production practices and technology.”

To provide the most current data, Elanco commissioned the Nielsen Company to survey more than 26,000 U.S. households in October 2010.

“The results were even stronger than the International Consumer Attitudes Study, with 98 percent of consumers saying they make their food choices based on taste, cost and nutrition,” Aukerman said.

The silent killer

U.S. farmers are on the right track of providing consumers with a variety of food choices as they produce more with less, said Aukerman. He noted that U.S. ag output since 1948 has increased 2.5 times, while ag inputs have been relatively flat.

Technology is helping to ensure sustainability while feeding a hungry world, he added. Since 1977, each pound of beef produced in the United States requires 14 percent less water and 34 percent less land, Aukerman said, who noted that the beef industry has an 18 percent smaller carbon footprint today than it did nearly 35 years ago.

“Technology has had a huge impact on this, and we need to continue this trend.”

Leaders like Bill Gates understand this, said Aukerman, who cited the January 2011 Gates Foundation annual letter, which noted that “when farmers increase their productivity, nutrition is improved, and hunger and poverty are reduced.”

This message has global implications that hit close to home. While hunger is the No. 1 health problem in the developing world, killing more people than war, AIDS and tuberculosis combined, the United States is not immune from this epidemic.

In Iowa, one out of six children does not get enough to eat, said Aukerman, who noted that this “hidden hunger” is even more pronounced in many of America’s cities.

In Indianapolis, where Elanco is based, one out of four children in the inner city doesn’t get enough food to eat.

“Don’t just throw up your hands about this issue – do what you can with what you have,” said Aukerman, who encourages people to personalize the issue.

“Get involved in your community to bring awareness to childhood hunger issues. Also, don’t take it for granted that your family and friends understand the importance of technology in modern food production.

“It’s important to have these conversations within your own circle of influence.”

For inspiration, look to Iowa native and Nobel Peace Prize winner Norman Borlaug, founder of the Green Revolution, who stressed that food is a basic moral right of everyone.

“The public trusts farmers to produce safe food and do it in the right way,” Aukerman said. “Technology is an important tool that can help provide people around the world with access to a safe, affordable, abundant food supply.”

You can contact Darcy Dougherty Maulsby by e-mail at yettergirl@yahoo.com.

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