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Agricultural Challenges in The Next Decade.

American agriculture as never faced greater challenges or potentially greater rewards than it faces today. At the beginning of a new century, we have an opportunity to improve the diet and health of every man, woman and child living on the planet and those which will be born in the coming decades.


First, it is important to understand that the planet's over-population problem has been solved. We are no longer facing a potential doubling of the earth's population in the future. Population increases have slowed from 2 percent per year in 1960 to 1.3 percent in 1998. Births in the third world have dropped from 6.5 per woman to 3.0. This is a result of improved economic conditions, making it unnecessary to have larger families. Additionally, new roles for women in the third world society has given them value beyond child rearing alone.

Nearly all demographers now agree that the world's population will top out at about 8.5 billion in about 2040 and then slowly decline through the remainder of this century. Already one-third of the countries of the world have declining populations when immigration is not counted.

While on the surface one might think this is bad for American agriculture, this is not the case. Along with population stabilization comes a demand for improved diet all across the globe. The challenge is affluence; the demand for better diet will require an increase in 'world food production between two and a half to three times current world production. The U.S., with its most fertile land and technological advances, is in the best position to benefit from this demand, as long as international trade barriers come down.


You can count on trade barriers coming down over the next 12 months, beginning with China. China alone has 1.2 billion mouths to feed and a growing pet population to supplement its one-child-per-family policy, which alone could float the boat of much of U.S. agriculture.

The last barrier to come down will be in Europe, where the European Economic Community has latched onto the lies spread by Greenpeace about genetically enhanced food which is keeping American products out of their countries for competitive reasons.


Whatever you read about genetically enhanced food, you find it distorted on the negative side. Risk is as close to zero in this exciting technology as any scientific breakthrough has ever been.

Agricultural biotechnology is a science that has evolved over hundreds of years. You may remember from high school science the work of Gregor Mendel in the 1860s. Through experimental cross-breeding of garden peas, Mendel discovered the basic laws of genetics -- that there is a recombination of parental traits in offspring.

Agricultural biotechnology -- genetic enhancement -- is a continuation of the work of Mendel and others, but now it is done with precision in modifying plants and organisms without the guess work. It provides powerful tools to help us combat human diseases, to promote human health, to combat animal diseases, to fight hunger and to protect the environment.

Within about 15 years there will be virtually no agricultural products that have not been genetically enhanced for healthier diets, disease resistance, vitamin, mineral and pharmaceutical delivery as well as basic nutrition. The scare tactics of Greenpeace et al. will fall to the primary needs of society. China already rejects the idiocy of environmental radicals in their desire to better feed their population. They will welcome all our genetically enhanced foods once the trade barrier falls.


On a similar front, American agriculture will overcome the general concern for food safety that has been laid at the feet of farmers when it belongs almost entirely in the processing plant and the kitchen.

Although chemicals can cause foodborne disease, it is most commonly associated with microorganisms. In the U.S., microbial food contamination is far more of a public health problem than chemical food contamination. Yet many Americans believe the fallacy that manmade additives and pesticides and other such chemicals make their food supply dangerous. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has ranked microbial contaminants and naturally occurring toxicants as the primary dangers in food.

Foodborne disease refers to any disease that results from eating food contaminated with a pathogen, most often a bacterium. Such diseases constitute an important public health problem. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has estimated that each year in the U.S. there are 76 million cases of foodborne disease, with 325,000 cases involving subsequent hospitalization and 5,000 ending in death. Moreover, it has been estimated that the annual cost of related decreases in productivity ranges from $20 billion to $40 billion.

But foodborne disease is almost always preventable in the U.S. Most cases trace to improper handling of food between its initial production and its ingestion. Some foodborne-disease hazards have diminished in recent decades, such as unpasteurized milk, improper home canning, and lack of refrigeration. Meanwhile, the number of centralized, large scale food processing operations has increased considerably. One slip in such an operation can result in the sickening of numerous consumers.

At the same time, greater care must be taken in preparing food in the home. Although the egg industry has impressively reduced Salmonella Enteritidus contamination of whole chicken eggs, eating raw or uncooked eggs remains somewhat risky. Even the safest food purchase can quickly become unsafe.

Food service establishments must ensure that takeout foods are safe at purchase, but it is in any case incumbent on the buyer to ensure that, within two hours of its purchase, the food is eaten or appropriately refrigerated.

No government agency can pressure households to wash their cutting boards or to refrigerate the food in their doggie bags.


One of the greatest impediments to successful agricultural production in the past decade has been overbearing environmental regulation. Agrichemicals have been under attack as threats to human health, when in fact they have dramatically enhanced both human health and the environment.

They are perceived as a threat because their residues can almost always be found on crops. It is not because significant quantities remain behind, but because our laboratory equipment comes close to detecting concentrations as small as parts per quadrillion.

Concurrently, the fear to which our population is subjected by our environmental agencies is all based on studies of rodents. In studies we assume that if a dose 10,000 times greater than a human could experience creates a problem in the rodent, then a few molecules may create a problem.

What the public fails to grasp is that the farmer is an environment's best friend. In the past 30 years we have quintupled yields per acre for most crops, meaning we have not had to plow down a single acre to keep pace with increased needs of agricultural production. Had production stood still we would have had to destroy millions upon millions of acres to keep pace.


The greatest failing of American agriculture has been its inability to tell the farm story to the American city dweller. Young people today know that milk comes from a grocery store and have no idea what role the cow plays. The same can be said for every other aspect of farming. We have failed to tell our wonderful story, which was well known a half a century ago, when more people lived in rural areas.

American agriculture has a healthy future but it will take a united effort by everyone who works in our industry to tell our story to the public, to the media and to the government. The latter will continue to support us in hard times as long as the economy is strong, but if we play our cards correctly we will be able to go it alone on our own resourceful means in the next few years.

Welcome to the bonus section of Agri Marketing magazine that is reserved solely for NAMA members. This section, which includes remarks from a presenter at the recent Issues Forum, Sept. 13-15 in St. Louis, is part of the extended communications agreement between NAMA and Agri Marketing magazine. As a way to give our members more value, these bonus sections will be available quarterly.

--Jill Green, President, NAMA
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Comment:Agricultural Challenges in The Next Decade.
Author:Lehr, Jay
Publication:Agri Marketing
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Nov 1, 2000

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