By now most in the agriculture industry have learned that our global population is circling around 7 billion, and by 2050 the United Nations projects that worldwide food production will have to increase 100%. The U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) states that 70% of this additional food supply must come from the use of efficiency-enhancing technologies. Jeff Simmons, President of Elanco Animal Health, says the consequences of failing to use these science-based technologies and innovations will be disastrous.
The responsibility of producing this food will land squarely on those who grow and raise crops and livestock, but it will have to be done on less land with fewer resources. Simmons says the FAO projects that global production of meat and dairy protein will almost double by 2050. This is where, in my opinion, food animal veterinarians can have a huge impact. Already you work with clients and strategically use technologies such as implants to raise livestock more efficiently with fewer inputs.
A 2007 study showed that a combination of modern feeding practices and efficiency-enhancing feed additives enables today’s cattle growers to use two-thirds less land to produce a pound of beef as it takes to produce a pound from “all-natural” grass-fed cattle. We can now also produce at least 58% more milk with 64% fewer cows than dairy farmers could produce in 1944. I’ve got nothing against grass-fed or organically produced beef and dairy — we are fortunate to have many excellent food choices in this country to suit our preferences. But those systems are not going to produce the greater volume we need (much of it due to land needs) as commercial systems can.
Efficient does not mean poor welfare
Unfortunately our modern systems are also being attacked over animal welfare concerns. Granted there have been some horrendous, but isolated, incidences of animal abuse that have garnered media attention. Those individuals are not representative of the larger population of livestock producers and frankly I hope they never touch an animal again.
What I see when I go with veterinarians to their ranches, feedlots and dairies are individuals who are working to provide the best environment they are able to for cattle comfort. Attention to detail with nutrition, health programs, stocking density, environment and cattle handling are displayed every day. Welfare, handling, treatment and transportation guidelines from groups such as the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association and the Dairy Calf & Heifer Association have been produced and implemented on operations — much of them including veterinary oversight. If you’re not working clients with these guidelines, it’s high time you start. This protects the animals, the producer, the veterinarian, the product and more importantly, the consumers of the product.
We in the industry often don’t know how to talk to consumers about these issues. Read Simmons’ white paper “Making safe, affordable and abundant food a global reality” at www.Elanco.com to become familiar with how efficiency in agriculture will feed the future, but only if we are allowed to continue to develop and use scientifically-based technologies.