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Livestock Important to Feeding the World

October 13, 2010

Food derived from animals is an important source of protein, energy, calcium and micronutrients — all of which can improve people’s health, their economic status and the environment, according to experts at the Fourth Annual Iowa Hunger Summit held in conjunction with the World Food Prize Borlaug Dialogue on Oct. 12.

Terry Wollen, veterinarian and interim vice president of advocacy for Heifer International, and Kevin Watkins , Ph.D. and co-chair of the Elanco Hunger Team and Hunger Board, discussed the role of livestock in reducing food insecurity during a presentation to the Summit’s more than 500 attendees. They shared information about a multi-year collaboration between their two organizations, and emphasized the need to consider four dimensions when evaluating food alternatives in the fight against world hunger.

“Thoughtfully evaluating how foods and food systems affect all four dimensions — human nutrition, people’s health, their economic status and the environment — is critical as we take on the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization’s (FAO’s) challenge of producing 100 percent more food by 2050,” said Watkins. “The good news is both research and real-world experience show that animal-source foods deliver on all four of these dimensions.”

Based on FAO projections, in 40 years the world’s growing population will need twice as much food as we produce today. While some of this food will come from additional farmland and cropping intensity, 70% of the increase in supply must come from use of new and existing agricultural technologies.

A case study: Improving Nutrition in Zambia

Despite farmers’ best efforts, today nearly one billion people throughout the world are hungry. These people and others struggle with deficiencies of protein, energy and calcium (macronutrients), and iron, iodine, zinc, vitamin A and vitamin B-12 (micronutrients).

To understand how adding livestock-based foods to a diet affects nutrition, Heifer International analyzed the scenario of a typical 40-year-old man living in Zambia. Today, this moderately active 165-pound man would eat a basic diet of cereals along with small amounts of fruits, vegetables and meat. Unfortunately, this diet delivers less than half of the recommended amounts of calcium, Vitamin B-12 and Vitamin A, and less energy and protein than he needs.

Adding 18 ounces of milk, two ounces of beef and one ounce of chicken to this man’s basic daily intake gives him 100 percent or more of the recommended amounts of energy, protein, lysine, and vitamins A, B-2 and B-12, and increases his calcium levels to 75 percent of the recommended amount.

The cycle of hunger and poor health

“Even just a moderate increase in the consumption of animal-source foods provides critical nutritional benefits,” said Watkins. “This is one of the best ways to stop the cycle of undernourishment that leads to poor health and disease — a syndrome called the poverty micronutrient malnutrition (PMM) trap.”

The PMM trap starts with hunger. This leads to nutrient deficiencies and impaired development, which alter metabolism and can compromise people’s immune status, making them more susceptible to disease. When people become sick, their illnesses often are more severe and last longer, leading to a reduced appetite and poorer absorption of nutrients. This creates even more hunger and malnutrition.

“Through our work at Heifer International, we’ve found that providing living gifts of livestock along with training in sound agricultural practices can break this cycle of hunger and poor health,” said Wollen. “Bringing these inputs to developing countries has proven to be an excellent investment that truly helps communities improve their nutrition and health status.”

Improving economic status sustainably

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RELATED TOPICS: Beef, Dairy, Hogs, Poultry, Livestock, Cattle

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