Three rights of our safe, affordable and abundant food supply

This is Part 2 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.

In the Part 1 blog post, Simmons summed up that the role of technology in developing safe, affordable and abundant food enables three rights: food, choice, sustainability.

1. Food – a basic human right

The first right is ensuring human right of all people around the world to have access to affordable food. While the majority of residents in the industrialized world aren’t faced with the threat of  starvation, many deal with random bouts of food insecurity and spend significant effort searching for the next meal. Finding nutrition is the daily challenge for an increasing number of children in developed countries. In the developing world, hunger may well be the #1 health problem. Lack of food kills more people worldwide each year than war, AIDS, malaria and tuberculosis combined. According to the World Food Programme, every hour, 720 children around the world die from a lack of food.

The hard thing is that there is a cost to to this right and food comes for a price. Keeping food prices affordable is critical to creating greater access for those living on low incomes.

  • Nearly 3 billion people—43%of the world’s population—currently live on less than US$2 a day.
  • More than a third of the world’s poorest live on less than US$1 a day,17 or what many of us reading this paper might spend on a bottle of water.
  • In the world’s poorest countries, citizens can spend from half to as much as 80% of their income on food.

Due to continual innovation in food production, we’ve been able to keep food prices amazingly low. Farm gate prices for corn, wheat, rice and milk actually cost 40 percent to 85 percent less than in 1960 based on inflation-adjusted prices. Meanwhile, oil prices, a key input in food production, have skyrocketed, costing 337% more than the inflation-adjusted price in 1960.

Poverty is a complex issue, and solutions to the related challenges of poverty and politics will likely come over decades. Yet one thing can be done right now on more of a global level, and it boils down to choice and technology. Hunger is a disease for which we already have a powerful weapon: technology.

2. Choice – a consumer right

As mentioned in Part 1, consumers have a choice to the food they buy and consume. Taste, Cost and Nutrition were the most important factors in food purchasing decisions. That’s a pretty powerful message to our farmers who want and will continue producing food using technology to meet the consumer demands of taste, nutrition and cost. But what type of people are out there making these food decisions? According to the ICAS study, 95% are Food Buyers, 4% are Lifestyle Buyers and 1% are on the Fringe.

Food buyers are the type that buy their food based on the taste, cost and nutrition. Lifestyle buyers are interested in luxury or gourmet, organic/local and gardens. Then, those considered Fringe buyers what their food issues to be your issues – activists holding food bans, demanding restrictions and trying to affect policy with propositions. plentytothinkabout.orgwp-contentuploads201103Three-Rights-White-Paper-Revised.pdf - Google Chrome 11302012 40657 PM.bmp

But the great thing about our food system is that we have many choices for buyers.

3. Sustainability – environmentally right

plentytothinkabout.orgwp-contentuploads201103Three-Rights-White-Paper-Revised.pdf - Google Chrome 11212012 23330 PM.bmpFinally, the responsibility of providing an abundant, affordable food supply with a broad variety of consumer choice must be delivered while protecting the very resources—the land, water and air—that sustain us.

The facts are compelling and leave little room for argument. Production technologies are enabling farmers to grow more food with greater efficiency, allowing them to feed more people while consuming fewer natural resources and generating less animal waste. Modern, efficient food production is environmentally sustainable.

The data speak for themselves. For example, since 1944, annual production of milk per cow has quadrupled in the United States,32 which means we need far fewer cows to meet the demand for milk. Consequently:
• Modern production of every gallon of milk requires 65% less water
and 90% less land than it did in 1944.
• 76% less manure is being produced for each gallon of milk sold.
• The “carbon footprint” for a gallon of milk in 2007 was 63% lower than it was in 1944.

The story is similar for beef and grain production. Our challenge though is that we need continuous improvement. To ensure our growing global population has sufficient food, we’re going to need to grow food with maximum efficiency and with as little impact on the environment as possible.

In Part 3 – look forward to Jeff’s analysis of how we can solve world hunger, one egg at a time.

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

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