Meeting global food demand

Lecturers say help is needed to reduce hunger
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Improved agricultural technology is needed to decrease world hunger, reduce conflict, and give consumers choices, according to Rob Aukerman, president of U.S. operations for Elanco Animal Health.

Jo Luck, president of Heifer International and one of two 2010 World Food Prize laureates, said that through inspiration and education, people can develop the plans needed to help themselves and their communities produce ample food and improve their lives.

During the 44th Annual Conference of the American Association of Bovine Practitioners, Aukerman and Luck were among presenters who described the harms of global hunger, the effects of the rising demand for animal products in developing nations, and the roles veterinarians can take in meeting that demand. The meeting was Sept. 22-24 in St. Louis.

About 2,100 veterinarians, students, and other attendees participated in the meeting, which included lectures on antimicrobial residues and resistance, an announcement that the AABP would launch a practice sustainability project (see article), discussions on animal welfare, and educational sessions on large and small ruminant practice.

Cow and herder in Kenya
This cow and herder were photographed in 2010 alongside a road in Kenya, where the U.S. Agency for International Development and partner organizations have worked to develop dairy herds since 1994. Numerous presentations at the 44th Annual Conference of the American Association of Bovine Practitioners included information on how veterinarians can help meet global food demands. (Photo by Joyce M. Turk)

Aukerman thinks individuals involved in food production need to explain the importance of technologic improvements in food production that do not require increases in land or material inputs. He thinks that agricultural industries might also find that they have allies among environmental activists because of the shared goal of producing food without increased resource usage.

Luck said veterinarians can improve the lives of people in developing nations by sharing their expertise, which can help those with few resources learn from the experiences of food producers elsewhere in the world. She encouraged the veterinarians in attendance to learn about people's hopes and aspirations, inspire them to set agendas, and let them lead and own their projects.

Luck recounted work that helped some Masai farmers establish and grow their dairy cow herds as well as a project in Honduras that developed goat herds while helping turn barren ground into plant-covered terraces. She said that she encountered a young woman while providing aid in Uganda and encouraged her to have dreams and set goals. With livestock aid and encouragement, the woman eventually earned a doctorate in the U.S. and worked for the United Nations.

Jo Luck, president of Heifer International, addresses AABP conference attendees
Jo Luck, president of Heifer International, encourages veterinarians to aid people in developing countries through encouragement and advice yet to let those people set their agendas and own their work. She gave the presentation Sept. 22 at the 44th annual conference of the American Association of Bovine Practitioners. (Photo by Greg Cima)

"You never know what you might say that could change a life," Luck said.

She said that, with some help from veterinarians, farmers in developing countries can be great entrepreneurs.

Heifer International, with about $47 million from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, is working in sub-Saharan Africa on a dairy project to empower farmers to increase production beyond subsistence farming. One or two hectares of land can allow someone to rotate crops, raise animals, make a living, and help others, Luck said.

Joyce Turk, senior livestock adviser for the U.S. Agency for International Development's Bureau of Food Security, said improved living conditions and population growth are driving the increased demand in developing countries for food from animals. While people in developing countries consume more meat overall than those in developed countries, per capita consumption remains higher in developed countries.

Malnutrition kills between 3.5 million and 5.5 million children younger than age 5 annually, Turk said, citing figures from the World Bank. She noted that one West African country, Mali, exports several hundred thousand cattle, sheep, and goats to neighboring countries annually, yet malnutrition affects between 30 and 39 percent of children younger than age 5 in that country. She said in an interview that the exports may be connected with lack of information about the critical need for animal-source foods in the diets of children, particularly for those 2 to 12 years old.

Through 2020, demand for milk is expected to rise 1.8 percent annually in developing countries and 0.2 percent in developed ones, she said. Meat demand is expected to rise 1.7 percent annually in developing countries and 0.5 percent in developed ones.

Dr. Harold E. Amstutz receives a standing ovation
Dr. Harold E. Amstutz receives a standing ovation at the AABP opening ceremony just before the announcement that nine veterinary students had won scholarships in his name. More than $475,000 has been given through the AABP Amstutz Scholarship program since 1993, when Dr. Amstutz retired as AABP executive vice president. (Photo by Greg Cima)

Although global demand for animal products is increasing, the numbers of U.S. cattle herds and cattle owners will likely decrease until product prices rise enough to support those still in business, according to Dr. David P. Anderson, a professor and extension economist in the Department of Agricultural Economics at Texas A&M University. He indicated that skyrocketing animal feed costs, speculative investment in agricultural commodities, and rising incomes elsewhere in the world are among the factors that could increase the prices of groceries, and suggested that substantial increases in food prices could decrease food security in the U.S.

The U.S. beef cattle population has dropped 12 percent since 2007, even though beef exports have been growing, according to information released in late October by Purdue University. Beef prices have risen from $92 per hundredweight in 2007 to $113 per hundredweight in 2011, and prices are expected to top $120 in 2012, according to university figures. Christopher A. Hurt, PhD, an agricultural economist at Purdue, said in a university statement that drought and high feed prices were connected with the reduced population of U.S. cattle.

Turk said in her presentation that meat and dairy products not only provide immediate nourishment but also aid physical and cognitive development.

The World Health Organization estimates that about 22 percent of preschool-age children in West Africa are underweight compared with about 1.5 percent in developed nations.

In an interview, Turk encouraged veterinarians to become aware of the importance of animal-source foods in children's diets, tell others when possible, and recognize that children within the U.S. suffer from malnutrition and micronutrient deficiencies. Imparting that knowledge serves communities, she said.