A balanced, nutritious diet is essential to good global health and all of the related benefits that this brings. While huge progress has been made in reducing hunger, two billion people globally are still not getting all the nutrients they need. Poor diets impair physical and cognitive development, preventing people, communities and countries from reaching their full potential.
Ensuring access to animal-source foods is a powerful way to ensure the world’s poorest can improve their diet, either through the animals they raise or the income they receive from them.
Diverse diets are healthy diets
People eating diverse diets, including iron-rich meat, are less prone to anaemia and other nutrient deficiencies. Eating foods from animal sources reduces the risk of malnutrition associated with monotonous diets.
Eggs and milk are nature’s first foods, designed to sustain and support early childhood with essential vitamins and minerals. A child who drinks milk daily can grow up to 3% more in a month.
Convenient, protein-rich and energy-dense
Animal-source foods are energy-dense, they provide readily absorbed and used proteins and they are especially important for vulnerable groups like children and sick people and in areas where other nutritious foods are not available. Small quantities provide large benefits.
First 1,000 days
Pregnant and lactating women, and babies in their first 1,000 days, have particularly high protein and nutritional requirements. Eggs, meat and dairy products are three of the seven food groups deemed by the World Health Organization to be essential to assessing the dietary diversity of infants.
Because animal-source foods are essential to children and pregnant and lactating women, targeted subsidized programs should make these foods available to these groups. Social behavioural change programs are also needed to increase awareness of the nutritive value of animal-source foods, as well as to counter taboos among some communities that discourage consumption of certain animal-source foods by women and children.
Food security and nutrition goals
Livestock are critical to meet Sustainable Development Goal 2 on ending hunger, achieving food security and improved nutrition and promoting sustainable agriculture.
Country-level strategies must integrate the multiple roles livestock play in achieving food and nutritional security in low-income countries. The focus has to include meeting ‘nutrition goals’, which animal-source foods in particular contribute to, rather than merely meeting people’s calorie requirements. Because animal-source foods are relatively expensive compared to other foods, policies should help make livestock products more affordable for the poorest in society. These policies should include reducing production costs, facilitating trade and providing targeted price support for the poorest and vulnerable groups. While there is a consensus that overconsumption of animal-based products can cause health problems, this is generally not the case in most developing countries, where underconsumption of animal-source foods is more typical. Policies in poor countries should facilitate access to animal-source foods by those groups and communities that remain undernourished.