UN says livestock-based diets key to fighting global hunger

A Maasai man sells sheep in Kimana livestock market near the Tanzanian-Kenyan border on June 5, 2018. (Xinhua/Wang Teng)
A Maasai man sells sheep in Kimana livestock market near the Tanzanian-Kenyan border on June 5, 2018. (Xinhua/Wang Teng)

Sustainable consumption of livestock-based diets including meat, eggs, and milk should be prioritized in order to combat malnutrition affecting pregnant mothers and children in low-income countries, UN Nutrition said in a new report launched in Nairobi on Wednesday.

Titled “Livestock-Derived Foods and Sustainable Healthy Diets,” the report says that resource-constrained households should be encouraged to consume animal-based proteins in order to reduce undernourishment and stunting.

Stineke Oenema, the executive secretary of UN Nutrition, a United Nations inter-agency coordination and collaboration mechanism for nutrition at the global and country levels, said that livestock-based diets have the potential to cushion low-income communities from malnutrition that impairs the physical and cognitive development of children.

“Overall, the evidence shows that context is key when we consider the role of food from livestock in our diets,” she said.

Experts from the World Food Program, the World Health Organization, the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, the International Fund for Agricultural Development and Nairobi-based International Livestock Research Institute compiled the UN Nutrition report.

The report says that a trade-off is necessary to ensure that consumption of livestock-derived diets among food-insecure households is not detrimental to environmental sustainability, and that consumption of eggs, meat, and milk should factor in age, gender, and cultural diversity while ensuring that ecosystems that underpin the livelihoods of rural communities are not destabilized.

“Sustainable livestock-derived food production and consumption can help us achieve multiple Sustainable Development Goals, mitigate climate change and secure a healthy planet,” says the report.

It says that plant-based diets alone are not enough to eliminate the global malnutrition crisis, which affects nearly 690 million people, adding that animal-based diets like eggs or milk, which are rich in vitamins and minerals and can easily absorbed in the digestive system, are ideal for reducing stunting that affects 149 million children worldwide.

According to the report, a child would need to eat at least 12 times greater quantity of plant-based alternatives like carrots to gain the amount of vitamin A that is available in a small serving of eggs, milk, or meat.