By ANN HINCH
GREENFIELD, Ind. — Since the United Nations’ Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) released a 2011 report projecting a global population of 9 billion people by 2050, agricultural groups and companies have seized on its accompanying statement that 70 percent more food than what is currently produced will be needed by then – not only for the extra 2 billion mouths, but also thanks to rising incomes demanding more food per capita.
The same report noted as of 2009, nearly 1 in 7 people worldwide were undernourished (a number not much changed now), and that even if global food production doubles by 2050 and cuts that number, there will still be roughly 370 million hungry people at that time.
And this isn’t limited to developing nations. The USDA Economic Research Service reported in 2011, 10 percent of U.S. households with children reported food insecurity. This is a national average; in some areas it’s much higher than in others.
Spurred by these data, Nutra Blend and Elanco partnered to create the "Drive to Feed the World" website at http://drivetofeed.com and a rolling theater and modern-day chuckwagon on two companion trucks, making stops this week in California and Oregon. The two trucks will travel the country through 2013 to spread the word about the problem of food insecurity and hunger – “And along with that, the solution,” according to Elanco U.S. Operations President Rob Aukerman.
“We want the word to go out and for people to embrace the technology message,” regarding methods for increasing food production, he added – methods in which companies like Elanco and Nutra Blend (which sells Elanco Animal Health products) specialize.
Representatives of the companies already attend events to speak about food production issues, Aukerman explained, so this is simply a different way to present the information more widely and “to differentiate ourselves out in the marektplace.”
The trucks will make stops at college campuses (as they are this week), client locations, festivals, fairs – including one day at the Indiana State Fair this August – and other locations in the continental United States as the schedule is filled.
Nutra Blend Sales & Customer Service Director Randy Shanks said the trucks should make approximately 130 stops this year. He said while part of the goal is to visit existing customers, “we don’t just want to preach to the choir.”
He said what companies like theirs are up against are groups whose goal is to put animal agriculture out of business. While he said these are only about 1 percent of the population, they are vocal enough to land an impact on a public that Elanco and Nutra Blend feel ought to be better-educated about modern food production.
If such opponents succeed in destroying U.S. animal ag, Shanks charged, Elanco and Nutra Blend will feel the pinch much less than those who need the food their technologies help produce.
“Who it will be tragic for is the hundreds of millions of people who already don’t have enough to eat,” he said, adding while the companies have done hundreds of millions of dollars’ worth of business over the past several years, “wouldn’t it be phenomenal if we could touch hundreds of millions of lives?”
A big part of the companies’ public outreach is in the form of “Drive to Feed” spokesman Bill Goldberg, a former WWE Wrestling World Heavyweight Champion and NFL player, and actor. Goldberg, who lives in San Diego, said part of his motivation to do this comes from having a young son and realizing that in his city alone, 1 in 4 other children get their only decent meal of a day at school (according to “Drive to Feed” information).
In a kickoff appearance in Greenfield last week, Goldberg told Elanco employees working for the campaign, “Make sure people are not misinformed as to what we do. Because, they are.” He pointed to examples from the video to be shown aboard the theater truck, of him asking “man on the street” questions of people about hunger and food production – answers varied widely and were often far afield of the facts Elanco and Nutra Blend want to convey.
“While I can be the guy to kick the door down and get attention,” the powerfully-built spokesman told company employees, “the rest of it’s up to you.”
“He really understands, and gets how important it is,” Aukerman said of Goldberg.
Six people will be staffing the two trucks, to run the video for the small theater in one and to cook BBQ meals in the other, for those attending the stops, according to Elanco Global Corporate Affairs Director Ted McKinney. He said at each stop there will also be local partners to talk with attendees about the video.
The video itself consists of Goldberg firing off statistics about ag production – including the “70 percent more food by 2050” core message – interspersed with him interviewing seemingly random passersby on the street about livestock and food, and testimony from ag experts.
Aukerman said the trucks idea stemmed from a conversation Shanks had with him following last year’s World Pork Expo, and has developed into the campaign.
“Our goal is that this is just the beginning of a long endeavor,” said Shanks. “This is just phase one.”