Alltech’s 30th Symposium Examines the Future of the Food ChainWed, 21 May 2014 14:14:43 CDT
From antibiotic-free meats to healthy bees, anticipating the future of the food chain is one of the keys to successfully feeding a rapidly growing world population, delegates learned during the closing session of Alltech’s 30th Annual Alltech International Symposium. The three-day event explored the curiosity-invoking theme of “What If?” in Lexington, Kentucky, USA, from May 18-21.
Speaking to more than 2,000 delegates from 60 countries, Dr. Mark Lyons discussed global consumer trends and scientific innovations that will shape the future of the food chain. Lyons is vice president of corporate affairs of Alltech and has been based out of Beijing since 2012 as part of the company’s “China Now” initiative.
Lyons examined a host of factors, including climate change, the shortening of food supply chains, increased awareness of the agricultural global footprint, as well as increasing consumer demand for natural meat production as fears of antibiotic resistance grow.
“This lower risk of antibiotic resistance will appeal to the masses,” Lyons said. “It doesn’t have to cost more, but it does require a food chain to be thinking about this issue. But it’s worth it. This is where the market is going. Let’s grab it. Let’s lead it.”
Lyons also cited the rise in the desire for functional foods - foods with potentially positive effects on health beyond basic nutrition. He suggested that farmers rethink their roles. “Are we in the poultry or pork business....or are we really in the human wellness industry?”
Becky Timmons¸ global director of applications research and quality for Alltech, also spoke at the closing session with a fascinating look at “overlooked agricultural workers” - bees and microbes. Bees, with their ability to pollinate ecosystems, are key to closing the agricultural yield gap that humans will face by 2050 as the population reaches 9 billion people.
One out of every three bites that Americans take is affected, directly or indirectly, by bees, and bees create an estimated $15 billion in agricultural crop value each year in the United States. Unfortunately, since 2006, beekeepers are losing about one third of their colonies per year - likely due to the overuse of pesticides, as well as the rise of monocropping and urbanization, Timmons said. Bees’ environments have changed and food sources have become limited as a result.
“Is the best way to increase our yields to spread chemicals, or should we be looking at the things that are already in the plants or the soil that are playing a role?” Timmons asked. “We really need to be looking at natural solutions.”
The natural solutions are in the soil in the form of microbes. Microbes are necessary for acquiring nutrients by creating enzymes that can break materials down in the soil and by producing antibiotics that eliminate pathogens in the soil, toxins that deter pests, and hormones that help plants grow. The bee population loss can be mitigated through limiting the use of pesticides and by planting more wildflowers, hedges, and trees.
Founder and president of Alltech Dr. Pearse Lyons wrapped up the 30th Annual Symposium, asking delegates “What did you learn? Will it transform you? There are so many ideas and yet so little time.”
The bars of “Climb Every Mountain” began to play as images of the outdoors flashed on the screen while vocalist Cynthia Lawrence sang the powerful song. As Dr. Lyons stood with his children Dr. Mark Lyons and Dr. Aoife Lyons on stage, he called them “his two dreamers,” and noted, “You need to associate yourself with people who can make things happen...Think of your dream and what we can do.”
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