Preparing for the year 2050 to eventually feed 10 billion people globally requires an intensified focus on how farmers and ranchers showcase their food production, tell their own story and help eliminate misunderstandings between consumers and producers.
About 50% more food is needed by 2050, according to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO). After writing the 2021 book, “Why smart people make bad food choices,” author and lawyer Jack Bobo, director of Global Food and Water Policy at the Nature Conservancy, told a webinar audience that sustainability is a trend and is another way of good business.
Hosted by the Kansas Beef Council, the webinar last fall focused on re-thinking food and agriculture. Bobo suggested farmers, scientists and policy makers explain why they do what they do, which will resonate with people. As you talk with others, tell them things are getting better but not fast enough, recommended Bobo, also the CEO of Futurity Food, a food foresight company.
“This is so critically important, because after 2050 the global population levels off when the peak amount of children level off. The challenge isn’t to produce more and more food forever, but rather to produce more now through 2050,” Bobo said.
Every day, now through 2050 it’s harder to produce more food without draining our rivers, lakes and aquifers, and we have just this one window to get through the next 30 years which will determine the fate of the planet, Bobo told the webinar audience.
Beef production increased 50% in the past 50 years, mostly due to improved technology, management practices and genetics. Animal agriculture is pivotal in creating a stronger, more efficient food production system.
The top three reasons why animal agriculture today is better than it was in the past and will be better in the future, Bobo said are:
- Genetic improvements mean fewer animals to produce the same amount or more food.
- Fewer inputs needed to produce feed for animals.
- Better use of the whole animal, including rendering.
Meanwhile, obesity and hunger stand out as two food-related issues in the U.S. and globally. Obesity rates today are at 42% in the U.S. It was below 15% in 1975. Currently, no country has an obesity rate below 15%.
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Obesity is defined as having a body mass index (BMI) of 30; which is a measure of body fat based on height and weight.
There’s a need to have conversations about healthier diets and how to reshape our food, Bobo said, and animal protein is part of that healthy diet. More people in foreign countries need animal protein to prevent stunting.
Nine million people die every year from hunger related diseases, which is equivalent to one person every four seconds, mainly children.
“I use the 1980-2011 information of how many resources we use to produce a bushel of corn, and we use 35% less greenhouse gasses, 40% less land and 40% less energy, and if you can produce food using less inputs – and with global sustainability, it’s about more intensely farming a piece of land. Impacts are local, but benefits are global,” Bobo said.
In Europe, a goal is to reduce pesticide by half, reduce fertilizer use by 20% and expand organic production to 25%.
“Instead of blaming farmers and ranchers, we need to ask them and work together. How we can get resources to accelerate those improvements,” Bobo said.
People love innovation almost as much as they despise change, but people don’t like change with their food, he said. But if we don’t change, then everything will change.
“It’s important to make our food less scary,” he said. “One example: if you can’t pronounce the ingredients, you shouldn’t eat it, is a concern. Another way to approach is to show a picture that makes clear that all food is made of chemicals.”
The future holds two trends, health and sustainability. Health labeling is taking off in Europe and could come to the U.S. Industry leaders will be watching whether these new labels push consumers to make different choices.
Bobo’s book ‘Why smart people make bad food choices’ is about consumer psychology and understanding how the brain sometimes leads people to make bad decisions. The second part delves into how our food environment; portion sizes and how we relate to food and snacking has changed over the past 50 years. The last part focuses on reshaping our food environment to deliver healthy outcomes; so we didn’t have to count calories, nor need pills to help with stress about food.
Bobo wrote the book because although people have more access to nutrition obesity is higher than ever.
Reporter Amy Hadachek is a two-time Emmy Award winning meteorologist and a storm chaser who earned her NWA and AMS Broadcast Meteorology Seals of Approval. She and her husband live on a diversified farm in Kansas. Reach her at email@example.com.