AFIA president and CEO Constance Cullman discusses the potential impacts for the US feed production and why it is important for the industry to have a voice
Early on, animal agriculture industry stakeholders became concerned when it appeared the focus on the Summit was beginning to prioritize the opinions of those who “lack experience working in modern agricultural systems.” Since the outcomes from the Summit could result in extreme policy recommendations — some that may undermine science-based best practices and ultimately stifle feeding the world’s growing population, the trade associations have actively pushed for a seat at the table to highlight the animal production’s successes.
American Feed Industry Association (AFIA) president and CEO Constance Cullman joined the Chat to discuss the Summit and how the U.S. feed industry should highlight its successes and contribution to sustainability and fighting hunger.
TRANSCRIPT: Feed Strategy Chat featuring Constance Cullman, AFIA president and CEO
Jackie Roembke, editor of Feed Strategy magazine: Hello everyone and welcome to Feed Strategy Chat. I am your host, Jackie Roembke, editor-in-chief of WATT Feed brands and Feed Strategy magazine. This edition of Feed Strategy Chat is brought to you by WATT Global Media and FeedStrategy.com. FeedStrategy.com is your source for the latest news and leading-edge analysis of the global animal feed industry.
Today we are joined on Zoom by Constance Cullman, president and CEO of the American Feed Industry Association (AFIA), here to discuss the global concerns surrounding sustainable food production being addressed at the upcoming U.N. Food Systems Summit.
Hi Constance, how are you?
Constance Cullman, president and CEO of the American Feed Industry Association (AFIA): Hey, Jackie, I’m great. Thanks so much for the invitation to come visit with you about this topic.
Roembke: Absolutely. Thanks so much for taking the time. So let’s get right into it. Why, in your opinion, is it important for the feed industry to have a voice in the potential actions that may come from the Food Systems Summit?
Cullman: Well, Jackie, as you know, your listeners may know that the Food Summit was started back in 2019 by the U.N. as a venue to talk about how do we achieve the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) that have been set out by the U.N. by 2030 and show some measurable progress. So they launched this mechanism to have a global conversation. Well, in the course of doing that, we sat up and took notice, because we really commend the United Nations focus over the past decade to making some measurable progress toward achieving those shared goals.
We believe in ending global hunger, promoting access to clean water, supporting those healthy lifestyles, alleviating food waste, through a lot of the responsible consumption and production among some of those other goals. And, you know, we champion these goals ever in everything we do, such as bringing to market new ingredients and innovative feed formulas that optimize animal nutrition and health and reducing our environmental impact. And so working towards zero hunger, quite frankly, is something the U.S. food and ag industry knows something about. And in particular, given its position in the food chain, the U.S. animal feed industry plays a unique role in ensuring that more people have access to not only affordable protein, but also high-quality nutrition that’s provided from food from animals.
We believe that sharing our experiences of the last several decades, both our successes and, quite frankly, our failures and mistakes, is really critical to continue advancing our own sustainability story, but also the journeys of other food systems around the world that are being undertaken.
So when this all started, we were a little bit distressed to see that the U.N.’s Food Systems Summit process, while we loved its noble vision, started out prioritizing the opinions of those who, quite frankly, lack experience working in modern agricultural systems. We saw that this focus could result in some pretty radical policy recommendations that would curb the use of a lot of the innovations that we’re coming to depend upon, and keep some of that life-saving nutrition out of the mouths of those who need it most.
Our industry needs its share it story — and we are doing that. We’re providing game-changing solutions to the world’s most pressing challenges. And we are insisting that the global community recognize those contributions and we’re championing policies and proposals that emerged during the summit that recognize that. So we’re keeping an eye on all of the proposals that are coming out, whether those are from the business community or government and U.N. leaders in the summit.
And the really fun thing was during the course of this, we started to hear from our members, the huge strides that they’re making, from an industrywide development of a sustainability roadmap for the feed industry to operations that are converting their energy sources to methane that’s been bio-converted from waste from livestock operations. The incredible number of food waste upcycling that’s occurring throughout the industry, feed ingredient development that is designed to improve feed utilization and efficiency of nutrient uptake. Direct support to local communities and communities around the world where some of the inputs are produced, and then even some very, very bold goals of working with their supply chain to achieve reductions in water usage and carbon emissions and achieving some of that climate neutrality.
So you asked me why do we need to have a voice? Because we have a lot to share.
Roembke: If they take a stance to push an agroecology agenda, how can that potentially negatively impact animal agriculture and, of course, the feed industry?
Cullman: It’s all in the term and the way people define agroecology. There are a lot of definitions out there that are perfectly acceptable in the way agroecology is viewed; however, in this context, when the movement inside the summit began pushing the idea of agroecology, that we’re really talking about eliminating certain inputs or removing tools from the toolbox and dictating and controlling the types of production systems we use.
So during that the U.S. brought forward a very constructive voice of reason and forward-looking thinking to the summit, while others in the process continued to make broad, unfounded characterizations or promulgate proposals that really presented some significant concern to our industry. So especially the ones that denigrated efficiency and innovation or exclusively promote production systems that decreased productivity and quite frankly, he wanted to take certain foods out of the diet completely, such as animal food for animals as well as finished foods.
So our point with this is we don’t need a concept like agroecology — as it’s being defined in this summit — we don’t need a one-size-fits-all approach, the world is very broad and very diverse and has unique challenges. Depending on where you go. We need to keep all of the tools in the toolbox and be able to determine what we need in certain situations.
Roembke: Thank you. And in your opinion, what are the fundamental flaws with taking a true cost of food approach when it comes to feed and of course, animal production?
Cullman: Well, Jackie, you must have read that I’m an economist by training. And so this true cost of food is quite concerning. Because the materials, the discussions, the Secretary General’s remarks, continue to repeat phrases like “true cost of food,” that does not have an internationally agreed upon definition, nobody really knows what that is. It’s not consistent with any sort of previous consensus of the global community. It’s not based on evidence. And it’s an attempt, in my opinion, to demonize certain foods, to push business and governmental leaders to pledge specific policies that would curb their consumption, e.g. taxes, labels, classification by processing, that kind of thing.
If you imagine every sector has externalities that someone could assign to it as a cost, for example, the energy industry or let’s say video games, for those people that have kids, one could argue that video games keep kids more sedentary, and that’s bad for their health, then there could be health complications from it so increased health care costs should be built into the cost of a video game. It’s that kind of externalities that could be brought into any sort of product. And that’s what’s trying to happen here. So that certain types of food and certain types of production systems can be characterized as not having that true cost of food built in. Therefore, we can tax it, make it more expensive, and get it out of diets.
Not the direction we want to go when we have people that are hungry, and need that high-quality nutrition that they get from animal products.
Roembke: What do you think is the best way forward for the global feed industry when trying to align with the U.N. Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs)?
Cullman: I think we have a lot of opportunities. At the pre-summit, we saw where the statements that the food system’s broken, it needs to be transformed, it can and those concepts in those words continue to go unchallenged, with really little to no acknowledgement of significant achievements that we’ve already realized.
And, Jackie, it’s really a difference of philosophy. Our detractors believe the system is broken and needs to be overhauled. We know and believe the system is working, and it’s getting better. So it’s important that we’re there with that voice to talk about how we can build on the successes that we’re having to provide high-quality nutrition to folks around the world.
It’s important that the feed industry around the globe continue to urge their government leadership to, one, support the role of science, innovation and technology, that we promote the benefits of predictable science-based international trade, that we take a moment to reflect on existing international commitment and recognize that all production systems should seek to minimize environmental impacts without sacrificing overall diet quality and diversity. And then, finally, allow for flexibility to address national, cultural, personal, and other circumstances that are out there.
You know, we really do recognize that our animal food manufacturers are part of the solution and they have to have a voice shaping the future of the global food system. And we need to loudly share our successes, and our promising innovations that are out there. I mentioned just a few earlier.
So now, quite frankly, it’s not time to put on distorted glasses and our attempt to solve the world’s problems. We need to see clearly the real progress, the U.S. agricultural industry has major sustainability and to feed a growing population and not undo years of scientific progress.
Roembke: Is there anything else that you’d like to add that you think the audience should know about this?
Cullman: Well, this one thing, Jackie, we have the food heroes in our industry to achieve zero hunger, and we cannot let those who do not understand modern agriculture to establish the rules and processes under which we work. You can have a voice and you must have a voice and there is still time to participate. You can register at the U.N. Food Systems Summit website at www.unfoodsystems.org/registration.
And it’s really wonderful because it’s a unique opportunity, since the entire program is going to be virtual, and include many side events, anyone can register, participate and share their views via the chat function at any of the events.
We also are sharing our social media content out there, and we welcome you sharing that as well. And for our membership, we provided a toolkit to help them navigate this summit.
And the final one is even after the summit, sharing your game-changing solutions, the innovations and the new approaches that you’re taking to sustainability will always be welcome because we’re always going to have to be working on telling the story.
Roembke: Very good. And if you’d like more information, please keep an eye out for our continuing coverage of outcomes of the Food Systems Summit. Again, thanks for your time, Constance, and thanks to you for tuning in.