THE push to eat less meat in developed countries is posing threats to efforts to improve livestock production efficiency in poor countries, where there is no choice but to under-consume animal foods.
This message emerged from discussions among global livestock specialists at the Crawford Fund annual conference in Canberra this week around the need to reshape agriculture to address the increasingly competing needs of the hungry and the over-nourished and the finite resources of the environment.
Anti-livestock rhetoric missed some big points about the vital role of livestock in poorer countries, according to Dr Anna Okello, associate research program manager of livestock systems at the Australian Centre for International Agricultural Research.
Livestock production in poor countries was more than just the consumption of food - it was a vital piece of the social and economic fabric of those societies, Dr Okello, one of the keynote speakers at the event, said.
“Blanket messages around negative impacts of livestock on health and the environment leave out all these narratives,” she said.
“These messages have lead to increasing calls to decrease or even cease global production and consumption of animal-source foods.”
Much of the work happening in improving smallholder and pastoralist production systems in low and middle income countries, along with many aid sectors, rely on major donors in the west.
“If they begin to question why we should support livestock production, there will be negative impacts on a whole range of things,” Dr Okello said.
“We are not trying to shut down the debate, it’s important opinions are heard.
“But we need to make sure voices from people from lower and middle income countries are heard equally.”
While the world’s wealthier countries had greater access to a diverse range of plant-based diet alternatives, animal-source foods remained integral to the health and economies of a vast majority of the world’s poor, Dr Okello said.
It was unrealistic to expect a pastoralist in Kenya or Zimbabwe to stop eating meat.
“There is no moral equivalent between those who make poor food choices and those who don’t have choice,” she said.
There were also indirect benefits to livestock keeping. For example, increased livestock-derived income can facilitate better and more diverse food choices and promote health-seeking behaviours and illness prevention measures, she said.