Prof Dr Louise Fresco

President of the Executive Board of Wageningen University and Research

Professor Louise Fresco has been President of Wageningen University and Research since 2014. In addition to this role, she holds various visiting professorships with an extensive involvement in policy and development. Fresco is a member of four foreign academies, the Dutch Royal Academy of Sciences, the Trilateral Commission, and the Council of Advisors of the World Food Prize. She is also a distinguished visiting scholar at the Academy of Sciences of South Africa and serves as a non-executive director with Unilever.

Fresco's illustrious career includes serving for almost 10 years as assistant-director general at the UN's Food and Agriculture Organisation, and extensive periods in Africa, Asia and Latin America. She was also a member of the supervisory Board of Rabobank and of the Socio-Economic Council, the highest advisory body in the Netherlands.

She has written 12 non-scientific books (published in Dutch), including three novels, and has a fortnightly column in Dutch newspaper NRC. In 2013, her book 'Hamburgers in Paradise – Food in Times of Scarcity and Abundance' was adapted into the six-part documentary, 'Frescos Paradise', broadcast on Dutch television. Also that year, her thought provoking op-ed 'The GMO Stalemate in Europe' was published in Science magazine. In 2009, she gave a TED talk in Palm Springs and participated in the Nobel Prize Dialogues in Stockholm and Tokyo.

Presentation abstract

The role of animal production in the global food supply

Professor Louise Fresco, President of the Executive Board of Wageningen University and Research, spoke about the essential role that animal production plays in the global food supply when she addressed the audience at the opening of Trouw Nutrition's new Calf & Beef Research Facility in April, 2016.

Professor Fresco spoke passionately about how to use the planet's resources to best produce the most decent, sustainable and healthy food for the growing global population. In order to meet this goal, she emphasized the importance of innovation combined with the necessity of ongoing dialogue between the various stakeholders in society, as well as the optimization of available resources.

The essential nature of animal protein

Professor Fresco underscored that even though in many places around the globe there seems to be a sense that the consumption of animal protein is or should be a thing of the past, it's very clear that we cannot make the best use out of the resources of the planet if we do not produce animal proteins. Animal proteins are essential. This is not true simply in an evolutionary sense, but animals unlock proteins and minerals that would otherwise be unavailable. Indeed, from her perspective, animal proteins aren't a luxury. They are, as she put it, "an essential part of the way we use the resources of the world." As such, she also feels that we need to deal with the issues associated with animal proteins. Therefore, she argues, that it's through innovation and dialog between scientists, producers and society, that not only will the consumption of animal proteins continue, but that it will thrive.

Innovation for the future

Professor Fresco's belief is that "innovation is the word of the future." Novel feed sources will come into the food chain which will require adaptations in feed production. The fundamental issue is that if we want to use our natural resources wisely, we need to unlock the potential in our biomass. In practice, biomass is produced everywhere on the planet. By using biomass to feed animals, we can make use of the total potential of our planet in a much better fashion. Professor Fresco emphasized that maximizing productivity is not a goal in and of itself, but that optimizing total resource use efficiency in order to achieve optimal productivity is! She spoke about optimizing feed sources, about the use and reuse of waste, about reducing methane emissions and about the enormous amount of food that is lost to both preventable disease and wasteful practices. And what is her call to action? We can and must do better! Not just in terms of nutrients, but she believes there are many ways of closing the loops and making the economy more circular. And, there are appropriate scales at which this should take place.

Ongoing dialog between stakeholders

Professor Fresco feels that partnerships, such as the one that Nutreco, the parent company of Trouw Nutrition, has with Wageningen University, foster innovation. In fact, Professor Fresco explained that the real key to successful innovation is ongoing dialogue that includes science, society, companies and governments. As she stated, "It's no good being innovative if society doesn't accept your innovation." Whereas perhaps 50 years ago, people were more easily accepting of high levels of production and less concerned with animal welfare issues, Professor Fresco noted that notions of sustainability and acceptability come in to play today. Therefore, it's up to the Agri-food industry to shape both the opinion and the debate through dialogue, in order to help make optimization as acceptable as possible.

Ultimately, Professor Fresco believes that through partnerships that lead to innovations we will find the answers we seek so that we can, in the end, feed all people who still do not have enough animal protein. She believes that together we can find the key to a balanced and sustainable society. But, she knows that you cannot do that alone and that we cannot do that alone. Professor Fresco hopes that we can try and do it together, and make sure that the next decade is a decade in which we enter into a productive and lasting dialogue.


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