Paul Bredwell and Kate Barger-Weathers participated in one of many panel discussions at the 2016 Sustainable Agriculture Summit.

TUCKER, Ga. – With presentations and panel discussions from representatives of food companies that included Tyson Foods Inc., McDonald’s Corp., Fair Oaks Farms, Smithfield Foods, JBS and Campbell Soup Co., one of the themes of the 2016 Sustainable Agriculture Summit was that the focus on sustainability is a new and permanent reality. The conference, which drew about 500 attendees, was jointly sponsored by US Poultry & Egg Association (USPOULTRY), Field to Market, the Innovation Center for US Dairy, the National Pork Board, the Stewardship Index for Specialty Crops and the US Roundtable for Sustainable Beef.

During a panel discussion that opened the Nov. 15-16 event in Atlanta, Paul Bredwell, vice president of   environmental programs with USPOULTRY summed up how the broad issue will impact food companies in the future.

“Sustainability is a journey that has no end,” he said. “It is an ongoing effort that we must be prepared to look at forever.”

The panel, composed of representatives across multiple food-industry segments, discussed the importance of cooperation throughout the food-industry supply chain to ensure improvement of sustainability practices and heightened awareness in agriculture.

Another session during the conference entitled “Hot Button Topics: From Antibiotics to GMOs,” addressed the issues of cage-free egg production, antibiotic use and the growth rates of birds. John Glisson, a veterinarian and vice president of research with USPOULTRY, was part of this panel and pointed out that the more consumers know about the science of antibiotic use, the less likely they are to have an emotional response to their use. On the topic of cage-free egg production, Glisson said the cost to comply is prohibitive to keep up with demand. He added that any correlations made between slower-growing birds sustainability are unfounded and counterproductive. 

“It is not based on facts, logic or reason,” Glisson said.

Kate Barger-Weathers, a veterinarian and director of world animal welfare with Cobb-Vantress, concurred with Glisson on the issue.  

“Slow growing chickens are not a great story in terms of sustainability,” she said.

Part of a panel discussion in the closing session at the conference, Christine Daugherty, Ph.D., vice president of sustainable food production, said today’s purchasing decisions are influenced by transparency.

“Consumers want to know what you are doing in a language they can understand,” she said.