According to University College Dublin’s Patrick Wall, the future of the agri-food industry is good. However, according to Wall, who spoke at the food breakout session of Alltech’s recent Symposium, consumers must be confident that the industry provides safe, healthy, and sustainable food products for growth to continue.
Wall explained that misconceptions about food production are damaging to markets in the agri-food industry. Due to bad practices of a handful of poor operators within the industry, a disconnect exists between humans and modern agriculture. People often have negative perceptions of the industry and think of modern agriculture as “factory agriculture.”
Poorly handled food contamination incidents also turn people away from markets in the agri-food sector. Wall cited an E.coli scare initially attributed to Spanish cucumbers as an example. Though the cucumbers were not the source of the outbreak, the incident still caused the end of the entire Spanish cucumber harvest in 2011.
The spread of inaccurate information about food production and contamination incidents occurs faster than ever with social media. Wall reminded attendees of the negative effects on Beef Products Inc. after the spread of YouTube clips containing Jamie Oliver’s declaration of lean finely textured beef as “pink slime.”
In addition to fighting misconceptions, the agri-food industry must also promote the healthy nature of its products. As Wall explained, if you are in the agriculture business, you are actually in the human health business. Diet is a major determinant of health, and the dietary needs of humans differ with life stage. Using genetics and nutrition, the agri-food industry can make its products even healthier and fight current health issues like globesity, the term the World Health Organization uses to describe the global obesity epidemic.