Looking Ahead in Livestock Health
7 questions with Shannon Kellner, Associate Vice President, U.S. Livestock Team, Merck Animal Health.
Vet-Advantage: What are the major trends you see in the livestock industry?
Shannon Kellner: In my role, I have responsibility for our swine, cattle, poultry, and aquaculture businesses. There are two major trends that I am seeing across our businesses. The first is consolidation and productivity. Consolidation is consistent across all of the livestock sectors, and in large part, this is a way to combat higher costs of operating, lack of labor, and variability in demand.
The second is around food transparency and sustainability. Consumers are demanding transparency about how their food is raised. At the same time, the livestock industry needs to be able to meet the food needs of a growing population and the rising demand for protein. Healthier animals mean a more sustainable food supply.
As an example, you see a lot more cattle going into branded programs because of consumer demand for transparency and sustainability and the desire of food companies to try and differentiate themselves by defining specific metrics around how cattle are raised.
In a highly competitive market, producers are starting to see value in entering these programs. By finding better ways to manage and collect data on their animals, it allows them to address consumer concerns and build trust. What may have started with tracking and traceability now enhances the value of their own production systems.
Vet-Advantage: How has the industry adopted new technologies?
Kellner: Using the crop side as a model, you now see more technology being used in the livestock sector – not only to collect data but also to take that data and leverage it to make sound business decisions.
As an organization, we have consciously made a large investment in this space. Our goal is to bring value to the customer in any given segment by marrying technology with our biopharma offerings to provide our customers with a comprehensive portfolio. As an example, we recently launched Whisper On Arrival, a first-of-its-kind precision tool that predicts which cattle will benefit from treatment for the control of bovine respiratory disease. In the dairy space, we launched a new ear tag technology featuring a multi-function LED indicator, which allows dairy producers to more quickly identify cows that need attention.
Each of these technologies is designed to minimize disruptions to the animals – leading to better animal welfare while saving the producer time and labor to be more efficient in their operations. You can expect to see Merck Animal Health continue to innovate across our biopharma and intelligence portfolios, delivering solutions to our customers in animal monitoring and disease prevention with data-driven insights.
Vet-Advantage: Where do you see the areas of growth in the livestock industry?
Kellner: The more producers can do to incorporate technology into their production systems, the more efficient they will become and the more profitable they will be. As the population continues to grow, there will be continued growth across all species based on the demand for protein. The challenge our producers have – and we have too – is how can we continue to do that more efficiently and affordably?
I believe we’re at the precipice of something unique. One’s ability to make that shift in thought process and take advantage of the tools, technologies and change management processes will be crucial to being able to deliver on the promises we make to our customers and consumers. We are committed to helping our customers and producers in any way we can to be more efficient, profitable and sustainable.
Vet-Advantage: What types of products or services are you adding to help address the changing livestock industry?
Kellner: Our strong pipeline brings together holistic solutions from biopharma and animal intelligence to address our customers’ animal health needs.
Technology is something that must continually progress to be effective. We want to continue to be a leader in driving value and innovation in this space. At the same time, we’re also one of the top companies for continued investment in biopharma research in the livestock space.
We are thinking about what consumers want and engaging with veterinary advisory boards to find out the types of products they need to be successful to grow sustainably. By bringing the voice of our customers into the process, it will enable us to make better decisions with the biopharma and technologies we bring to the market and the acquisitions we make.
Vet-Advantage: What developments in veterinary medicine are you watching?
Kellner: We’re cognizant of trends in disease pressure, especially foreign disease such as African swine fever as well as the next biological threat to our food systems. We continue to keep an eye on what investments we need to make to proactively work on these types of scenarios.
There also are policy-related impacts, such as what the veterinarian-client-patient relationship will look like moving forward and how we leverage telemedicine. COVID has highlighted the need for different ways to be able to engage with each other, but we need to make sure that we keep the veterinarian in the center of the process and do not transition so far that we put the well-being of our animals at risk.
Merck Animal Health is a very strong supporter of the veterinary profession and believes these tools and technologies that are developed shouldn’t cut the vet out of the loop – it’s what’s best for the producer and what’s best for the animal.
Vet-Advantage: How has COVID-19 impacted your business?
Kellner: As with everyone, COVID-19 has created challenges in terms of the workforce and having a consistent supply of raw materials. We also have had to look at new ways of working – meeting with customers virtually, engaging internally, etc.
Being owned by Merck is a great benefit in scenarios like this because of the level of resources we have to lean on. We have second-to-none supply chain and manufacturing organizations that have done an outstanding job navigating through COVID-driven issues.
At the end of the day, it’s our people who fuel our success and deliver for our customers. The good news is despite all the recent challenges, we have been able to meet our customers’ needs and will continue to do so.
Vet-Advantage: As you look ahead, what are the trends in veterinary products distribution that will most affect your company?
Kellner: We rely on our distribution partners to be successful. We’re proud of the distribution partners we work with and have good relationships with them. Like us, they see how the industry is changing and know that we must find new ways in how we can drive value for each other and our customers as part of the manufacturer-distributor relationship. There’s a whole new world opening up to them and them to us. We believe Merck Animal Health is the best distributor partner out there today, and it’s our goal to continually look at new ways to bring value to our relationships that allow us both to be successful.
Photo credit: istockphoto.com/Ron and Patty Thomas