When I was younger, I remember reading in a children’s book that you could dig a hole – a really deep hole – and eventually reach China.

Ignoring the fact that in practice, your hole-digging journey would be hampered by the Earth’s molten core, and that geographically speaking, your tunnel would end up somewhere in India--not China--nowadays you don’t really need to “dig” to reach the foreign shores of Asia.

We live in a global economy, folks, which is why news of Smithfield’s merger with Shuanghui, shouldn’t really have been that much of a surprise.

Dr. Mark Lyons, vice president of corporate affairs for Alltech, recently shared his vision for what the next seven years will hold for food. Lyons, who moved to China several years ago, told attendees the opportunities there are enormous, yet many challenges lie ahead in terms of food safety, sustainability and biosecurity. In fact, the Chinese government recently launched a five-year plan that will focus on finding solutions to these problems.

Lyons illustrated some of these challenges through the paradigm of Mr. Lou, a dairy farmer from the Shuangcheng, Heilongjiang province. Mr. Lou had a dream of increasing his dairy farm to one with more than 1,000 cows.

But Mr. Lou’s dream didn’t end there. He also dreamed of one day owning a BMW.

All chuckles aside, instead of leaving the countryside behind and moving to the city, which is what many Chinese people do to pursue more lucrative careers, Mr. Lou decided to stay and start his business with 40 cows in 2012. Today, he has that BMW...and a successful farm with over 400 cows.

Perhaps what surprised me more than that story, however, was that, according to Lyons, the Chinese people and the Chinese government want a food system like ours--one that is large, efficient, sustainable, and above all else, food safe.

Interestingly, the average farm in China has ten animals, and the Chinese people are quickly realizing they need to increase the scale of their farm operations to successfully feed their growing population.

This “bigger is better” discussion occurring in China is vastly different from the conversations taking place in the United States today. 

Just look at the activist-coined phrase “factory farm,” or at any of the activist organizations’ well-funded campaigns which demonize larger, more modern farms, and you’ll quickly realize that the American public isn’t buying our industry mantras about efficiency, sustainability and food safety in large, fully-integrated farm settings.

Dr. Lyons also shared an interesting anecdote from his time in China: no one eats alone. Food is so integral to the Chinese people that meal-time is sacred. If you’re sitting alone in a Chinese restaurant, don’t expect to be left alone for long.

I’ve often said that food is one of the most personal choices we make every day. You can agree or disagree with American companies partnering with Chinese businesses, but at the end of the day, we have more commonalities than differences, including a love of good, wholesome, safe food to nourish our families.

They say that imitation is the sincerest form of flattery: We should look at our food system as one that is truly top-notch.

While many of us spend time on the defensive, trying to combat the activist propaganda and the “glo-cal movement,” the Chinese are lusting after our system. They clearly have realized what we did a long time ago: Bigger is better when it comes to feeding a hungry world.