Solving world hunger: 1 egg at a time

This is Part 3 of 3 of “Making safe, affordable and abundant food a global reality”, Jeff Simmons and Dr. Chris Ashworth from Elanco. Read more at PlentyToThinkAbout.org. Read Part 1 and Part 2.

What Part 1 and Part 2 may have shown you is that we have a challenge: feeding our growing global population. And we need to do that with technology and choice.

But there is another side of this issue. Nearly 1 billion people cannot afford the recommended 1,880 calories per day. Over the past decade, global meat prices have jumped by 60 percent and global dairy prices by 83 percent. It’s no surprise that over this period, the number of people who are undernourished has increased by nearly 10 percent — from just under 800 million in 1997 to 870 million today.

According to Simmons, that’s just the tip of the iceberg. Worldwide demand for animal protein is expected to double over the next 40 years. Yet today, demand already outpaces production. Simmons uses the example of one of our most basic proteins — an egg. Eggs are one of the most easily affordable protein sources. A single egg contains almost all vitamins and minerals a person needs. A single egg has the power to break the vicious life cycle of under-nutrition, which can have a huge impact on development. That impact affects not only individuals but also communities — even countries.

But egg production is declining.

Today, people around the world consume about 174 eggs per person per year produced by some 6.5 billion hens. Since 2000, egg productivity has been declining by 1 egg per chicken per year. This may not sound like much, but if this trend continues, by 2050 the world will need about 3 times more hens — nearly 18 billion — to feed our families eggs.

Why has productivity gone down? Among many examples is a California ballot initiative that changed hen housing standards. That initiative alone is expected to increase egg production costs 20 percent.

Yet if we could return productivity back to historic rates — helping hens produce a modest 1.5 eggs more per year — it would take only 10.4 billion hens to meet demand. That’s more than 7 billion fewer birds — which translates into a lot less feed, less water and less waste.

The benefits of advanced production technologies — increased food supply, cost efficiencies and positive environmental effects — are obvious. But it’s never safe to count chickens before they hatch.

Simmons encourages us to take action now. By the end of this decade, barely eight years from now, we will need 20 percent more meat and poultry than today. Two-thirds of the increase will be required to feed developing countries. We must embrace innovative production tools to break the cycle of hunger once and for all.

That gives you plenty to think about. Check out Plentytothinkabout.org and watch their video as well.

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