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Ag Biotech Summit to Tackle Challenges, Solutions


By Jennifer Woodford, Contributor

William Weldon, Ph.D., vice president of Global Research and Development for Elanco, is the opening keynote speaker for the Agriculture Biotechnology Summit 2012.

Elanco is Eli Lilly and Company’s animal health division. Weldon’s address to the Oct. 10 gathering at North Carolina State University’s McKimmon Center in Raleigh is, “Hunger, Health and Energy: Challenges for Today’s World.”

Online registration is now open for the event, presented jointly by the North Carolina Biotechnology Center, the North Carolina Agricultural Biotechnology Advisory Council and the Kenan Institute for Engineering, Technology & Science.

On a global scale, Weldon says, leading scientists, farmers, agribusiness executives, politicians and others are trying to find answers to what seems like a simple question: “What’s to eat?” Unfortunately, for some in the poorest and most malnourished countries, the question is more often: “Is there anything to eat?“

Regardless of which question is asked, the number of people asking is rising dramatically. The United Nations World Population Prospects, 2008 Revision projects that today’s population of seven billion will hit nine billion by 2050. The World Population Prospects, 2010 Revision released in May 2011 extends the projection to 10.1 billion by the year 2100.

Focus on food for, from animals

The challenges posed by a multiplying global population span food, energy and health. Weldon, as an executive at Elanco, is working on a specific piece of the equation -- meeting the demand for animal-sourced food. 

Elanco provides parasiticides, antibacterials and anticoccidials for the poultry, dairy, beef and swine industries as well as productivity enhancers that, as Weldon describes, allow livestock to be more efficient and produce more product from fewer resources. Earlier this year, Elanco acquired ChemGen in Gaithersburg, Md., to add in-feed enzyme products to improve the utilization of feed.

“We produce products that improve the health, wellness and well-being of livestock and pets,” said Weldon. “So when we specifically talk about food, our focus is on products that improve the health and performance of livestock which improves the efficiency of meat, milk and egg production.”

Changing patterns increase protein needs

Addressing the efficiency of livestock production is critical as the increase in global population is intersecting with a change in consumption patterns that is upping demand for animal protein. In South Asia, for example, the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations predicts that the demand for poultry will increase 725 percent by 2030.

“If you think about where we are today and the challenge in front of us, the use of technology has become very important,” Weldon said.

From a global perspective, Weldon views the application of agricultural biotechnology as one of the keys to solving the need for sustainable and renewable energy as well as effective medicines to treat disease.

“As we look at the future, we believe the adoption of technology including new genetics, management practices and products will allow us to produce food in an even more environmentally friendly way,” Weldon said. “If we apply technology in the right way, the opportunity is here to have the ultimate solutions, making food more available and affordable.”

N.C. plays leading agricultural role

Weldon recognizes that North Carolina, with 85 ag biotech companies, leading agricultural research and development and specialized education and training resources, is among the states best positioned to develop the most innovative solutions.

“Obviously North Carolina has a tradition of being innovative, particularly when you think of places like the Research Triangle” Weldon said. “The state has an interesting intersection of innovation in diverse areas including agriculture. North Carolina has strong crop production and significant livestock production, the hog industry in particular. There’s a great opportunity for North Carolina to provide leadership going forward.”

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