Want To End Hunger? Animal Protein May Be the Answer

The White House hosted its first conference on hunger since 1969 this week. While President Biden announced several steps to increase access for free school meals and more incentives to purchase fruits and vegetables with food stamps, some say protein from animal agriculture could be a major answer in the need for healthy and nutritious food for Americans.  

According to the USDA, the White House Conference on Hunger, Nutrition, and Health is aimed to bring various parties together to work toward ending hunger and reducing diet-related diseases and disparities in the U.S. by 2030.  Some of the announced steps include:

  • Chobani launching a national corporate responsibility initiative – Food Access in Reach (F.A.I.R.) – to encourage businesses of all sizes to “adopt-a-school” and pledge to make it food- and nutrition-secure. As part of this initiative, businesses including Chobani will pledge to help schools meet child nutrition standards and pay their employees at least a $15/hour minimum wage to reduce hunger within their own ranks. 
  • The National Grocers Association will expand access to full-service grocery stores – grocery stores that stock and sell fresh produce, meat, and dairy, in addition to processed and packaged goods – across the country. It will double the number of retailers offering SNAP Online, prioritizing rural areas and areas with low food access, such as agricultural communities. NGA will also build a toolkit to support its members expanding full-service grocery stores into USDA-designated food deserts. 

National Milk Producers Federation (NMPF) was in attendance Tuesday. Jim Mulhern, president and CEO of NMPF, says they worked with other agricultural and anti-hunger groups in preparation of the conference and urged the White House to place a high priority on affordable, diverse and healthful foods. As a result, Mulhern says NMPF is welcoming the strategy’s consistent emphasis on increasing consumption of healthful foods to levels recommended in the dietary guidelines.

"We know from decades of working in this area that dairy products — and the 13 essential nutrients they provide such as protein, calcium, Vitamin D and potassium — will be vital ingredients to meeting these goals," says Mulhern. "The Dietary Guidelines for Americans (DGA) shows that dietary patterns that include dairy are associated with beneficial health outcomes, such as lowered risk for cardiovascular disease, obesity, and type 2 diabetes. The guidelines also note that dairy is under-consumed across all age categories. Scientific evidence clearly indicates that milk and dairy foods are part of the solution to challenges like food and nutrition insecurity, health equity, and diet-related and other noncommunicable diseases."

Animal Protein is the Sustainable Answer

While much of the White House’s plan centers around increasing fruit and vegetable availability for families, Elanco, the world’s second largest animal health company, says livestock producers are also a part of the solution. Elanco CEO Jeff Simmons says the company has a clear vision of how animal agriculture is the answer in addressing both hunger and climate demands today.  

“Animal protein demand continues to grow,” Simmons says. “It's probably the biggest misnomer, even inside our industry. The last 10 years, we have increased demand 60 million metric tons. The prediction the next 10 years, 90 million, another 50% more growth.”

 He says part of it is more export trade and countries around the world increasing their demand for animal protein. He says the other reason is the health benefits of animal protein. 

“You’re seeing this Western diet, more protein, less carbs. What we produce is under tremendous demand, the fastest growing food segment today is animal protein. When demand is up, you turn and say, ‘Hey, there's real opportunity here for the farmer to play a role,’” he adds. 

 Simmons says in order to meet those challenges, he has a clear message for livestock producers.

 “There are three C's that matter,” Simmons says. “It's calories, it’s climate, and it’s choice. On this whole calorie side, 60% of the world is not getting the right calories, they're not getting enough, or they're getting the wrong ones. Animal protein is the hot segment inside of that 50% more growth. That's critical.”

As the livestock sector answers the need on the calorie side, he thinks the climate piece is equally as important. The United Nations claims as part of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, countries that adopted the Paris Agreement to limit global temperature rise to well below 2 degrees Celsius. And Simmons thinks livestock producers are a valuable piece of that solution. 

 “Whether you believe or not, that eight-year United Nations statistic is making the whole world, consumers, governments, industries, big companies like Elanco, say we got to get behind climate, and methane is what can do that,” Simmons says. 

 The third “C” Simmons outlined is “choice.”

 “Consumers want your product,” he adds. “And it's growing significantly. This is an opportunity we need to look at. I believe every farmer needs to gain the knowledge and understanding within the next 24 months. Get a roadmap and action plan together. There's a lot of people out there to help. Elanco is one of them. There are other companies to help get farmers on this path. It's the next era of opportunity and animal agriculture.”

Meat Companies Already at Work 

The North American Meat Institute (NAMI), which represents the major meat processing companies in the U.S., agrees that meat is part of the solution, and NAMI says meat companies are already working toward that goal

“According to Feeding America, meat is one of the top three most needed foods for food charities. Yet, meat represents just 1% of food distributed by food charities, in part due to limited capacity to limited infrastructure for cold storage, packing, and distribution,” says Meat Institute President and CEO, Julie Anna Potts. “The resulting “protein gap” worsens hunger and particularly impacts women, children, and older adults who have greater need for the nutrients, vitamins, and minerals best and sometimes only found naturally in animal-source foods.”

Potts says filling that protein gap is a top priority for their members, who have already committed to help end hunger in the U.S. by sharing information and investing in protein pack rooms and refrigerated transportation. She says that’s being done through:

  • Cargill announcing in August a new $4.9 million donation to Feeding America, including to build and expand protein pack rooms. 
  • JBS already donating more than $2 million for improvements in cold storage and distribution, along with contributing to food safety training and safe meal preparation.
  • Tyson Foods donating $2.5 million to Feeding America in September , allocating $1 million to Equitable Food Access grants, and 2.5 million pounds of protein.

While the White House Conference on Hunger announced a bold plan this week, some Washington watchers say that with midterms looming, Biden may not have support in Congress for long enough to see these measures through on a federal level. 

 Read more: How Biden’s 5 Pillars of Hunger Strategy Will Show Up on Your Operation 


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