Conference Report: Time to Protect and Reinvent

BANFF - If the world hopes to meet growing demand for food without destroying wildlife habitat, it needs to rethink the relationship between habitat and high yield farming. At the same time, agriculture needs to reinvent itself in order to regain the trust of the public.
calendar icon 24 January 2008
clock icon 4 minute read

These were two perspectives presented by leading industry analysts at the 2008 Banff Pork Seminar. The Banff Pork Seminar is an annual seminar for the pork industry that attracts delegates from around the globe.

"Over the next 50 years, the world's producers will face their greatest conservation challenge in history: supporting a population of eight billion humans and their pets without clearing the rest of the planet's forests for low yield crops and pasture," says Dennis Avery, director of the Centre for Global Food Issues, an agricultural and environmental think-tank in Churchville, Virginia.

Dennis Avery, Director of the Centre for Global Food Issues

"Additionally, farmers are expected to free the world from its 'addiction to fossil fuels' by producing billions of gallons of biofuel on their 'spare' land. Finally, farmers are being told they should produce this abundance organically, a system of farming which would produce half the yields of conventional farming. Together, these are impossible demands based on a touching faith in the past successes of farm science and technology."

Un-doing Gains

A growing consumer focus on organic production systems threatens to undo the gains agriculture has made through high yield production practices, says Avery. "From an environmental perspective, high yield agriculture has saved the planet 16 million square miles of forest that, based on consumer demand, would otherwise be cleared for food production. Without it, humanity's food needs would be pitted against the needs of wildlife. High yield farming allows us to have both food and wildlands."

Also, the growing global demand for biofuel based ethanol, seen by many as an environmentally sustainable solution to energy demands, is actually an environmental red flag, says Avery. "In order to supply even 10 percent of North America's liquid fuel demand with ethanol, we'd have to clear 50 million acres of forest. The bottom line is that it's not a sustainable solution."

At the same time, agriculture faces an eroding public perception of its food safety, environmental and social activity, says Ernie Barber, lifelong educator and vice-president academic at the University of Saskatchewan in Saskatoon. "What's needed to regain the trust of the public is an approach that focuses on the health of both the environment and the consumer at all points in the production process and does not departmentalize around each link."

Ernie Barber, Vice-President academic, University of Saskatchewan.

Barber says one of the key problems with agriculture's image today is that the definition of "agriculture" has become confused. "We have not been consistent in terms of which crop and animal production enterprises we should call farms," he says. "We have also perpetuated a myth that food and non-food products are somehow contradictory outcomes. In the process, we have confused the public and other stakeholders and damaged agriculture's positive brand image."

Barber proposes a "bioeconomy" to meet the food, health and environmental demands of the future as well as to improve agriculture's image in the eyes of society. "A bioeconomy would place all links in the bio-based value chain within a single framework in which each link would work with, rather than against, one another. By consistently presenting agriculture in this way, the public would be much better able to understand the industry and appreciate its challenges and contributions."

Credits: Banff Pork Seminar
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