Written by: Victoria Broehm | July 20, 2023
By: Emma Bower & Victoria Broehm
This past week, several American Feed Industry Association staff participated in the Universal Food Forum, hosted by Michigan State University and CropLife America in Washington, D.C. There, different expert panels discussed a variety of topics impacting global food security, from building resilient food systems to climate change and global regulations and trade. Below are some of our highlights.
The forum kicked off with an entertaining presentation about how agriculture can combat misinformation spread online and by celebrity influencers. Timothy Caulfield, Canada research chair in health law and policy and professor at the University of Alberta, Canada, said that misinformation is one of society’s greatest challenges, leading to a decline in U.S. life expectancy, and is a threat that the public is greatly concerned about, right up there with climate change. Though misinformation has spread for decades, the agricultural community should be aware of the damage it is doing to the sector and take steps to mitigate it to ensure accurate messaging gets out there.
“If you get people to pause – to think about accuracy – they are less likely to believe misinformation,” Caulfield said.
Agricultural leaders can do that by focusing on shared goals, not the misinformation directly, and encouraging the public and members of the community to embrace critical thinking skills to help them identify false claims.
AFIA President and CEO Constance Cullman was joined by Ramesh Chand, with NITI Aayog of the Government of India, and Anupama Joshi, with the Center for Science in the Public Interest, to discuss food and nutrition security on a panel. The panel discussed a startling new statistic that shows that though the world is producing even more food than ever before, global hunger continues to increase. Cullman identified several complex factors that come into play when talking about food security, such as political unrest, corruption, inability to freely move foodstuffs and products around the world, and an inability to agree on innovation and scientific consensus, which is artificially restricting food production. She commented that some countries, particularly the European Union, are moving forward with policy changes it claims are more “sustainable,” but in reality, are reducing productivity, undoing years of scientific innovation, and keeping food out the mouths of those who need it most.
“I find it troubling that affluent countries want their cake and to eat it too, but in some countries, people can only dream of cake,” Cullman said.
Later in the day, AFIA’s Mallory Gaines, director of market access and multilateral affairs, was joined by Jason Grant, Ph.D., with Virginia Tech, and Craig Thorn, of DTB AgriTrade, on a panel to discuss global regulations and trade. Much of the discussion centered around the same theme Cullman brought up earlier in the day about countries influencing the marketplace by putting in place trade barriers “in the name of sustainability,” despite the science. Gaines said one of the biggest challenges for food security starts with the need for science-based sanitary and phytosanitary (SPS) measures, which are the rules countries or international standard-setting bodies use to decide what is “safe” for human or animal food consumption.
“Arbitrary reductions in technologies and innovations under the guise of sustainability is not doing agriculture any favors," Gaines said.
She went on to express concern that arbitrary reductions in technologies and innovations under the guise of sustainability is “promoting a culture of fear,” when, in reality, it is taking viable tools in farmers’ toolboxes away and worsening the global hunger problem.
Another panel explored the dichotomy between climate change and food prices, with panelists arguing that agriculture is both a victim and cause of climate change, and how we must do more to slow global warming in the future. One suggestion that came out of this panel came from someone you might not expect, the Environmental Working Group’s Scott Faber. Faber shared that it “could be a game changer” if the Food and Drug Administration makes the necessary regulatory changes to approve new feed additives that will reduce on-farm methane output, getting these products into the pipeline into farmers’ hands as quickly as possible (an issue in which the AFIA has been working).
The summit wrapped up with the White House’s National Climate Advisor Ali Zaidi holding a fireside chat with the U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Thomas Vilsack about the potential to improve the timeliness and removing barriers in analyzing greenhouse gases. Vilsack shared that a new report is being released that reflects the importance forestry and agriculture play in creating momentary opportunities, ending the conference with high hopes for the future.