Food policy groups focus on livestock sustainability as important for addressing hunger
The global discussion about sustainability in livestock reaches every sector of the industry and hits producers at every level.
In a policy seminar, “The Future of Livestock: Enhancing Sustainability, Responsibility and Efficiency,” hosted by the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI) and the Embassy of the Federal Republic of Germany and the Farm Foundation, panelists across a wide spectrum of interests looked at the implications of livestock production on solving hunger challenges across the globe.
“Livestock production is a very timely topic, as we are facing some great challenges,” IFPRI Director General Shenggen Fan said. “We have worked on many issues at IFPRI related to food and nutrition security, including livestock.”
Fan called out global nutrition security as a particular focus of IFPRI.
“We’ve heard that 850 million people suffer from hunger,” he said. “In the meantime, hidden hunger hits 2 billion people. I think livestock play a huge role in helping us to solve hidden hunger.”
Fan described hidden hunger as the lack of micronutrients, including iron, zinc and vitamin A.
“And don’t forget the third burden of modern nutrition – obesity,” he said.
“Animal-based protein plays a huge role for children in particular,” Fan said. “If children don’t have access to animal protein, their health suffers.”
“How do we make sure that we have a profitable and efficient livestock sector to really meet the requirement of animal for proteins, for children, as well for everyone in the world?” he asked.
To address the question posed by Fan, Friedrich Wacker of Germany’s Federal Ministry of Food and Agriculture (GFFA) summarized the 10th Annual Global Forum for Food and Agriculture, a conference that brought together 69 ministers from nearly every continent, as well as international organizations. However, he noted the U.S. was not present at the event.
“This conference has become a leading conference on key issues on global food security and the future of agriculture,” Wacker said. “With the importance of animal production, animal health and animal welfare are even more relevant.”
Wacker continued, “The ministers emphasized that relations between human and animal health are growing, and they expressed support for a United Nation’s global welfare strategy.”
Further, Wacker noted, since animal protein is an important source of nutrients, GFFA added livestock as a major topic on the agenda.
“In the past, livestock production was not given proper recognition by policymakers on the international level,” he explained. “The diversity of livestock systems, variety of social economic factors and continued development require a comprehensive policy approach. We wanted to advance the policy dialogue, make knowledge available, identify gaps and initiate research.”
Following the event, several teams were charged with exploring the issues facing livestock production, to report back at the next annual event.
Conversation with consumers
To engage in conversations about livestock production, Joe Swedberg, who works in legislative affairs for Hormel Foods Corp., noted, “We have to look at the agriculture industry from the perspective of the environment, animal welfare and people in communities.”
With a wide array of issues facing the agriculture industry, consumers are an essential component.
“We’ve realized that our consumer want to have a conservation with us,” he said. “They don’t want to be talked to or dismissed. We need to talk with them.”
At the same time, Swedberg said consumers are helpful in guiding policies moving forward.
“We are finding our customers are more and more helpful in guiding our policies. We’ve engaged with the market to be proactive,” he said.
For example, to address world hunger, Hormel has created a product out of the pounds of meat left on a turkey after the majority of the meat product is removed.
“We can take the pounds left off the bird, add micronutrients and can it, making it shelf stable,” Swedberg explained. “We’re feeding 30,000 children and 8,300 families. This is a product with dignity, and it’s a high value, animal-based protein.”
The key to answering consumer concerns from developed countries while also addressing challenges surrounding hunger in technology according to IFPRI’s John McDermott, who heads up the program on agriculture for nutrition and health.
“We need to trace products, source information in disease outbreaks and more, and we can do that digitally,” he said. “I see lots of opportunity in technology.”
Swedberg noted technology also provides opportunity in the form of food safety mechanisms on both the harvesting and processing side.
“We haven’t knocked out salmonella, listeria or other pathogens, but we have the technology to do quick trace-backs, find out where they come from and put mitigation processes in place,” he said. “Food safety is not a competitive advantage, it’s an absolute, and the livestock industry is leading the charge.”
Wacker cited technology that allows producers to address consumer concerns will also continue to be important.
“In Germany, our consumers are very much concerned about the fate of the male chicken in breeds that are used for egg production,” he said. “Because the male isn’t used for egg production, we are developing technology to identify the sex of that egg before they are hatched to avoid killing the chickens after they are born.”
“These technologies reconcile the expectations of consumers with the economic needs on the farm,” Wacker explained.
Technology also plays a role in allowing small farmers to be profitable and to enable sustainability of the livestock industry as a whole.
McDermott emphasized, “We need frugal innovation and low-income companies will lead the way.”
Saige Albert is managing editor of the Wyoming Livestock Roundup. Send comments on this article to firstname.lastname@example.org.