Dairy at Center of First-Ever Sustainable Nutrition Summit

Feb 2, 2020
david jackson presenting

Nourishing a global population that is expected to grow to 10 billion people by 2050 while protecting natural resources is one of the most complex challenges of this century. And while dairy farmers and the remaining 2% who produce food are the very first environmentalists, the topic of sustainable nutrition is gaining popularity among the general population – all of whom make daily food choices. 

Dairy MAX hosted the first-ever Sustainable Nutrition Summit at Texas A&M University in November to continue bridging dairy foods and farming to the health of people, communities, animals and planet. Faculty from Texas A&M’s nutrition and agricultural departments, health professionals – including physicians, dietitians and nurse practitioners – community leaders, students and dietetic interns came together to explore sustainable nutrition and how dairy plays a positive role.

“When most people think of sustainability, they initially think about protecting the environment and keep nutrition separate,” said Katie McKee, director of health and wellness at Dairy MAX. “But this movement of sustainable nutrition is more about doing what’s best for people, animals and planet to ensure a sustainable food system that continues to nourish our communities.”

Sustainable nutrition is defined as the science-based pursuit for solutions that provide affordable, accessible, nutrient-rich foods that can nourish the world’s growing population while also protecting environmental resources. Dairy MAX’s evidence-based summit took a deep dive into sustainable nutrition with speakers and panels, while also sharing dairy’s vision for a world well nourished. 

“It was the first time we brought people together on the topic of sustainable nutrition, and it was greatly appreciated by attendees,” said McKee. “Throughout the day, we heard people say the points of health and environmental preservation are really hitting on areas they work in.”

The summit covered how health professionals play a key role in defining what sustainable nutrition means to their patients and communities. Jack A. Bobo, chief executive officer of food industry consulting firm Futurity, kicked things off with a presentation about embracing the future of food in order to feed our growing population. David Jackson, first-generation dairy farmer and Dairy MAX board member, followed by sharing his family’s sustainable farm practices and innovations.  

“People are so excited to meet a dairy farmer,” said McKee. “It is a special opportunity for them to learn about what farmers do and how they preserve the land firsthand. It is always an important piece to share with our health and wellness audience.” 

Three different panels explored sustainable nutrition with dialogue between experts and the attendees. Jackson was joined by Texas A&M AgriLife’s Dr. Jennifer Spencer, Extension Dairy Specialist, and Dr. Dan Hale, Associate Director for Ag and Natural Resources, to cover sustainable food production practices. It was reiterated that U.S. agriculture, especially dairy, has demonstrated significant efficiencies allowing more to be done with less resources. One example shared was the dairy community’s ability to produce a gallon of milk using 65% less water, 90% less land and 76% less manure than in 1944. 

“Being on a panel with other experts, I was surprised at how many questions ended up being directed at me,” said Jackson. “There were several attendees who asked questions about the sustainable practices within our operation, my opinion of sustainability and views on other issues. I was glad to share my dairy story with them and further illustrate the big picture of dairy.”

Research shows consumer trust in science and the medical community continues to decline, while their faith in dairy farmers stays strong. Dairy MAX created a space at the summit for health professionals to ask questions while having a dairy farmer present to provide transparency. 

Other panels covered consumer trends and healthy food patterns that support communities. Health professionals in the audience were provided tangible takeways to support the concept of sustainable nutrition within their practice.

As the summit came to a close, attendees were asked to report key takeaways. The majority learned how the dairy industry’s commitment to sustainability leads to ethical eating and nourishing our population while protecting the environment. Attendees were also challenged to take action with a sustainable nutrition pledge by getting involved with their local food system and sharing sustainable nutrition information. 

For Jackson, experiencing the summit opened his eyes to what work is being done to protect and promote dairy’s role in sustainable nutrition. 

“As a dairyman, I was very proud to witness the work being done to promote sustainability and dairy’s role in sustainable nutrition,” said Jackson. “All of the information shared and discussions were fascinating, and I’m glad we are having these conversations.” 

Visit DairyDiscoveryZone.com to see more ways Dairy MAX is sharing dairy’s sustainability story.