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Jeff Simmons pinpoints the credibility crossroads animal health finds itself facing

Elanco president Jeff Simmons has emphasized a major quandary facing the future of many aspects of animal health.

As part of his keynote speech at Canada Ag Day in Ottawa recently, Mr Simmons highlighted the ability scientific innovation has to solve the need to meet global nutritional demand.

"Science is the answer but it has a credibility crisis," he stated. "Already, one in three in our world get the wrong nutrition, from malnutrition to obesity, and we're drastically overusing Earth's resources. If we're going to meet a 60% increase in demand for animal protein in the coming years, we have to do things differently."

Mr Simmons was again broaching a topic he has championed in the past. Elanco has built a persona, whereby it promotes causes beyond the 'core' animal health issues and attempts to address wider problems such as hunger.

Both Mr Simmons and Elanco are fighting the animal health industry's corner as consumer interest in food issues becomes more intense. Several contentious topics in food production – GMOs, organic, cage-free, antibiotic-free and animal welfare, to name a few – are never far from the agenda in the press and social media. In fact, Mr Simmons recently referenced the impact the 'clean food' movement has had on Elanco's financial figures.

Interestingly, Mr Simmons pointed out a new consumer trend to the conference attendees. He said supplies of organic milk, cage-free eggs and antibiotic-free chicken are all currently exceeding consumer demand. This is because many consumers are not willing to pay higher prices for the same quality product.

"The labels were driven by consumers' desire for transparency," he noted. "Instead they've gotten confusion and higher prices."

As an example, Mr Simmons highlighted some figures recently aired by major meat producer Sanderson Farms. According to these statistics, antibiotic-free chickens make up an average of 40.5% of fresh US chicken production. However, only 6.4% of sales were from antibiotic-free chickens.

Putting farming in the limelight

As well as urging innovation across several technology fields in animal health, Mr Simmons urged the conference attendees to address this 'credibility crisis' by:

    • Having the courage to become proactive storytellers using a "compelling platform that connects the health of animals with the health of people and the planet";
    • Becoming more inclusive of innovation as a positive differentiator in rearing healthier livestock, as well as highlighting the positive benefits of what is being used to produce food, "instead of what's not in food";
    • And fully understanding consumer demands and how to adapt to changing needs.

Mr Simmons' speech addressed an audience of policy makers, industry leaders, students and, importantly, farmers. He said the farmer is the "most misunderstood voice in the world today" and suggested farmers have avoided attention when consumer scrutiny on food practices has increased in recent years."Farmers are humble, hardworking, disciplined people," he explained. "Most aren't comfortable in the limelight.

"Instead of boldly telling our story, we in agriculture simply reacted to issues. We allowed our practices and innovations to be used as a negative differentiator for marketing purposes. As we look forward, we need to do a better job of explaining how science and innovation can help us meet the world's growing appetite for protein in a sustainable way.

"No single food group has the potential to positively impact human health and nutrition like animal protein – meat, milk and eggs. Fulfilling this vision means farmers must have access to the best available science and innovation to sustainably meet the growing demand, while maintaining food affordability and enhancing animal welfare. We believe we have enough innovation to meet the significant growing demand for meat, milk and eggs and give consumers what they want."

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