Jeff Simmons – Food Economics and Consumer Choice

jeffsimmons

There was a time when agriculture and food were sacred topics to the public. People were either on the farm or one generation removed which instilled a connection to the source of the food that we eat. In the past five years that has definitely changed as many food activists have begun attacking the large multinationals and even farmers for causing environmental issues, declining nutritional awareness and even if you can believe it obesity.

At the Elanco Beef Consultants Forum this month I heard Jeff Simmons, President of Elanco Animal Health speak to a crowd of vets and nutritionists about why agriculture needs technology to help meet a growing demand for safe, nutritious and affordable food.

Now you may think that Jeff€™s message was a rally around killing the organic movement but that is definitely not the case. Jeff focused on the need to supply consumers with choices. I would have to agree with Jeff that the all or nothing approach to GM and organic is a futile argument.

Jeff really focused on the three lessons to learned from the European example over the last decade:

Its crucial to have a a credible, authoritative regulatory body – The FDA and CFIA help to maintain consumer confidence in the food system while still promoting innovation from the industry for the benefit of all stakeholders.

Allow use of approved technologies and modern farming techniques to continue – Allowing a very loud 5% majority to stifle the advancement of technology will be very damaging to the hungry€™s ability to eat in the long term.

Food producers should avoid €œdifferentiating on the negative€ – Jeff talked about the major retailers stopping the practice of negative marketing and starting to focus on the positives of the contents. Negative labeling is more about catering to the fringe than providing information to the masses. 

The UN has projected that the global food requirement will double by 2050 which have to come from virtually the same land area. The UN food and Agricultural Organization (FAO) also states that 70 percent of this food increase must come from efficiency enhancing technologies. Jeff commented on the fact we cannot shut out the 95% of the consumers that want safe affordable food by taking away the world€™s ability to innovate. The other consideration is that a very limited amount of the world€™s consumers can afford to strictly purchase organic food.

Jeff showed the audience the trailer for the Michael Pollan movie, Food Inc that was shown this past summer in select theaters. As Jeff mentioned to the audience, it is time that agriculture stands up for itself and advocates for the industry and does not let the noisy 5% decide on the kind of system North America will have in the future. Jeff€™s key point was that Europe went down this road already and the consequences have been grave for consumers and the public.

Jeff concluded that the global food industry needs technology, consumers deserve the widest possible variety of safe affordable food prices and food choices, and the food production system can mitigate the food challenges and achieve an €œultimate win.€ In reality this can be done by improving he affordability of food, increasing the food supply, ensuring food safety, increasing sustainability, and producing more bio fuels.

After listening to Jeff Simmons speak for an hour I really felt inspired to continue advocating for agriculture and ensuring the global food system feeds the hungry. Keep up the great work Jeff Simmons.

 

Shaun Haney

Shaun grew up on a family seed farm in Southern Alberta. Haney Farms produces, conditions and retails wheat, barley, canola and corn seed. Shaun Haney is the founder of RealAgriculture.com. @shaunhaney

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5 Comments

Alberto

” In the past five years things have changed”. It’s a lot more than that that rural to consumer disconnect has occurred, at least one and maybe two generations ago. I say a major issue in consumer confidence is a unreliable ethical credibility of corporate agri-food America as evidenced by the Hallmark/Westland food safety debacle. And another one is the Select Veal Feeds felony where they sold chemicals for veal doctoring and hid it from the FDA. No pining for the good old days when we could count on having an affinity to uncle or grampa’s farm as a hedge on some bad patches of business problems. Corporate America’s allegiance to its shareholders while paying insincere lip service to customer food quality safety should be more of a mission for the brain trust at drug producer Elanco.

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Ronnie

The point is that much of people’s distrust of the system has do with misinformation in many cases. Today’s regulatory bodies are more stringent than they have ever been with food safety. The other thing to remember is that consumers have never had higher expectations. To expect perfection is to expect disappointment.

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Joan

FYI…organic farming is not about providing the consumer with choice, it is about responsible agricultural practises that minimize the harm to our planet. We need to stop this egocentricity.

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Ernie

Hey Alberto, I think it is absolutely amazing that there are so few examples where customer confidence gets eroded. On the flip side are millions of food producers and processors who are diligent at providing safe and nutritious food. Most of our world population would envy our record.
I am far more concerned about washing the ecoli. and other bacteria off my organic fruit and vegetable purchase than I am about any trace chemicals that might be on the conventional foods.

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Andy

Joan, with statements such as that you need to back it up. This is not a comment board on the CBC sight or National Post. Is ‘responsible’ farming letting 1/2 the population of the world starve? Because, unlike much of the organic hype out there, a reduction of crop yield by about 1/2 is documented in organic vs conventional input farming systems.

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