Alltech’s annual symposium gives agriculture thought leaders a stage
As this magazine went to press, the Alltech Annual International Symposium was wrapping up in Lexington, Kentucky. While you may not be a conscious buyer of Alltech products, chances are you’ve bought feed with base ingredients from the company.
We take note of the conference each year because Alltech, under leadership of its founder Dr. Pearse Lyons, is a unique company that hammers away on the frontiers of agricultural technology with a can-do spirit. Lyons heads up the company with a Happy Warrior’s approach to the challenge of stretching food production through technology, and doing it in ways that provide benefits up and down the food chain.
This year’s symposium featured something called the Great Debate, wherein Alltech invited some critical minds from agriculture and the food industry.
The on-stage debate sought to answer questions about feeding 9 billion people in the coming decades and how that might affect land ownership in places like Africa as well as a host of other side issues.
The industry experts were Tom Arnold, CEO, of Concern Worldwide; Sean Rickard, senior lecturer in business economics, Cranfield University, United Kingdom; Dr. Marcus Vinicius Pratini de Moraes, Former Minister of Agriculture and Food Supply of Brazil; and Tom Dorr, CEO of the U.S. Grains Council in Washington DC. Each shared their vision of future agriculture.
Presenters agreed that world hunger has declined dramatically over the past two decades. Arnold summed it up by saying, “In 1969 the world had about 3 billion people and about 25 percent of those 3 billion people were hungry. By 2004, the world had 6.3 billion people and 13 percent of that population were hungry.” Rickard agreed and explained that a key driver of meeting that world population food demand was the ability of getting science and farmers together.
Arnold used the phrase “Food is back.” He talked about how a large proportion of the world’s population has moved out of poverty. Rickard highlighted the policy practices which he referred to as “mad policies” such as the Common Agricultural Policy in the European Union and the need to move towards smarter policies and laws that better consider the implications and effects of policy.
Pratini de Moraes addressed the need to move away from protectionism and trade rules that effectively end up costing agriculture and consumers millions of dollars and eventually have a disproportionate effect on the availability of food.
Dorr suggested that the world should appreciate the fact that agriculture delivers over 7.6 trillion meals a year and suggested that agriculture may be where the information technology industry was at in the 80s.
Audience opinion was sought through a confidential electronic survey. Survey results were received from almost 600 delegates prior to the Great Debate. Of those surveyed, 52 percent resided in North America, 66 percent were feed-focussed with 45 percent conducting business in the ruminant market.
• Almost 50 percent of those surveyed felt that 9 billion people cannot be fed without using genetically modified foods while in contrast 20 percent felt that the world can be feed without GMOs.
• 75 percent of respondents think that emphasis should be placed both on food safety and in teaching people to better prepare their food.
• 33 percent of those surveyed believe that biofuels should be subsidized but only for a short time, while 39 percent disagree and believe that biofuels should not be subsidized having already received too much subsidy.
• 88 percent believe that countries should be allowed to prevent imports of food based on sanitary standards. Half said “yes” with World Trade Organization approval and half said “yes” in all cases.
Experts at the Great Debate all agreed that the agricultural industry is essential, and that demand for its output will continue to grow. Commenting on the debate, Alltech Vice President, Aidan Connolly, summarized the key messages delivered: “Modern agriculture needs to continue to embrace technology, innovation and place an emphasis on education. We must recognize that we are going to face critical issues, particularly with regard to water shortages, and focus on the need for transparency.”