Politics, public perception hurdles for global food supply

Politics, public perception hurdles for global food supply

Ag industry must be united to spread its message, experts say

Geopolitical factors and public perception have a significant impact on the global food system, according to the panel discussion, “At the Intersection of Innovation, Regulation and Global Politics,” held during the Women in Agribusiness Summit in Minneapolis on September 30.

The panel, moderated by Jerry Steiner of AltaGrow Consulting LLC, featured Randy Giroux of Cargill, Bradley Shurdut of Dow AgriSciences, Marcella Szymanski from the U.S. Department of State, and Gloria Basse of Zoetis.

“As agriculture becomes much more global … it brings natural tensions that we need to work through,” Shurdut said.

The panelists discussed China and the regulatory and trade pressures the U.S. faces with the country.

“China is the largest agricultural customer in the world,” Giroux said. He added that China helps control grain prices in the U.S.

“China is a big dog because it drives the market,” Shurdut said.

Szymanski said the U.S. is sometimes treated differently than other grain exporters such as Brazil and Argentina because of the geopolitical nature of the U.S.-China relationship.

“There is more going on than just science-based approval,” she said. She also said China has transparency issues that go beyond agriculture.

Giroux said Chinese regulators are “in a bind” because they face a lot of pressure from consumers about what types of biotechnology to approve for importation.

Telling the ag message

The panel agreed that, in order for the agriculture industry to better get its message across to consumers, it must have a single message within the industry that is understood by the public.

Shurdut said farmers and growers have the most credibility in telling their own story.

“It’s an interesting time in the food industry,” Giroux said. He said that consumers now make the connection between the food they eat and their health.

“Biotech doesn’t equate with ‘clean label’ image,” he said. “There are a lot of compelling benefits to agriculture biotechnology, but the average consumer doesn’t understand them.”

Part of the conversation

When it comes to getting government regulators to understand technology used in agriculture, Shurdut said the agriculture community needs to engage in the discussion.

“Be part of the conversation,” he said, because many people in government who are regulating agriculture don’t have a background in the industry.

“As an industry, too often we have gotten caught behind,” Steiner said. “We need to be more anticipatory of issues and need to be better at getting ahead of them.”

Basse added: “We all want to preserve the health of our animals and ourselves and our families.” She said transparency on the part of farmers in important in building trust and spreading the message.