DES MOINES, IOWA (Oct. 13, 2022) – Animal-sourced foods including meat, dairy, and eggs are critical for fighting global malnutrition, and producing these products sustainably requires innovation to protect the environment, mitigate climate change, and ensure food safety, according to a panel of experts speaking at Farm Journal Foundation’s side event for the World Food Prize Foundation’s Borlaug Dialogue.
Today, the world faces conflicting challenges: Climate change is pushing global temperatures to unprecedented levels, while at the same time rising incomes and growing populations mean that people need more animal-sourced foods for their nutrition – with livestock and poultry creating even more pressure on the climate and environment. Farm Journal Foundation’s Oct. 13 virtual event covered how agricultural researchers and the international development community are using innovation to address these challenges and flip this vicious cycle into a more virtuous one.
In low- and middle-income countries, only about 19 percent of vulnerable infants and children from age 6-23 months are getting a minimum acceptable diet of diverse and healthy foods, and part of the reason for this is inadequate access to animal-sourced foods, said Shawn Baker, Chief Nutritionist at the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) and moderator of the panel. Malnutrition during this critical window can impair health and survival, cognitive and physical development, creating lifelong consequences for children and their broader communities. Global shocks including the COVID-19 pandemic, climate change, and Russia’s war in Ukraine are putting even more pressure on our food system and leading to increased global hunger and malnutrition.
“Our actions to buffer the world more from these shocks are more important than ever,” Baker said. “Within that, the role of animal-sourced foods in meeting the nutritional needs of populations across the world and meeting their livelihood needs is incredibly important.”
Animal-sourced foods are “really essential for a considerable portion of the population” globally who don’t have access to enough nutritious food to eat, said Dr. Shirley Tarawali, Assistant Director General of the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI) based in Kenya and Chair of the Global Agenda for Sustainable Livestock (GASL). Livestock are also critical to livelihoods, especially in developing countries. About 1 in 6 people on the planet get some livelihood benefit from animals, and about 500 million people are directly dependent on livestock for their livelihoods, she said.
Innovations will be crucial for increasing the efficiency of livestock production and limiting the impacts on the environment. Better breeding and genetics, more nutrient-dense animal feed, vaccines to fight the spread of disease, and management practices that improve overall animal health are examples of developments that can increase productivity on existing farms, limiting pressure on the environment.
“We need to bundle these things together and think about how to respond to rising demand, how to address development, and how to mitigate harms all at the same time,” Tarawali said. “That’s one of the challenges, and why we need the sorts of innovations that foster a positive transition as we move forward.”
Animal-sourced foods are quite unique from a nutritional perspective, containing many essential nutrients, micronutrients, fatty acids, and quality proteins that are especially beneficial for pregnant and lactating mothers and young children, Baker said. While reducing consumption of animal-sourced foods can be an option for some wealthier consumers, many people in low- and middle-income countries do not have adequate alternatives to animal-sourced foods for their nutritional needs, Tarawali said. Small portions of animal-sourced foods can also have a big impact on an individual’s health.
“A single glass of milk and one egg per day for children growing up in some of these regions can make a massive difference on early childhood development and the quality of life for citizens in these countries,” said Dr. Mike McFarland, Chief Medical Officer with Zoetis.
Zoetis’ African Livestock Productivity and Health Advancement (A.L.P.H.A.) initiative, co-funded with the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, works to improve livestock health, farmers’ livelihoods, and nutrition by increasing access to quality veterinary medicines and services, diagnostic laboratory networks, and animal health training in sub-Saharan Africa. It is especially important that innovations reach the hands of smallholder farmers who need them most, McFarland said.
“It’s not just about providing a caloric dense source of nutrition, but also many people’s very livelihoods are dependent on animal agriculture,” McFarland said. “The commitment to keeping animals healthy is going to be crucial for the future of that farming system, which is based on the smallholder farm.”
The U.S. dairy sector is an example of an industry that has become more productive over the past few decades while also becoming more sustainable, said Ken Nobis, a Michigan dairy farmer and Farmer Ambassador with Farm Journal Foundation. Between 1944 and 2007, the industry produced a gallon of milk using 90 percent less land and 65 percent less water, with a 63 percent smaller carbon footprint. The industry has a goal of producing net-zero carbon emissions by 2050. Farming more sustainably means that producers can lower their costs, benefiting their profitability and the environment, Nobis said.
“Reducing carbon footprints is a challenge, but there is a financial reward for the producer, because in most instances, when you reduce your carbon footprint, you find a more efficient way to produce the product,” Nobis said. “So it all goes hand in hand. There’s been a revelation on the producer side when they recognize this doesn't sound all bad.”
To watch a replay of the event, visit Farm Journal Foundation’s YouTube channel.
Whitney McFerron, Communications Director
Farm Journal Foundation
About Farm Journal Foundation
Farm Journal Foundation is a nonprofit organization dedicated to achieving global food security by sustaining modern agriculture’s leadership role and ability to meet the vital needs of a growing population. The organization works to advance this mission through key issue areas, including global food security, agricultural research and development, nutrition, and conservation agriculture. To learn more, visit www.farmjournalfoundation.org.