Symposium 2019

Perspectives on Sustainable Diets

A Global Perspective on Sustainability

Symposium Presentation


Livestock Development Officer
Animal Production and Health Division
Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO)
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Over the last 30 years, consumption of meat, milk and eggs in low- and middle-income countries (LMICs) has more than tripled. Population growth, urbanization, income gains and globalization continue to fuel the “livestock revolution”. According to the latest FAO projections, under a business as usual scenario meat demand in Low and Middle Income Countries will increase by a further 80 percent by 2030 and by over 200 percent by 2050. Such rapid growth comes not only with opportunities – it also entails risks.

The UN Agenda 2030 and in particular the 17 Sustainable Development Goals offer a comprehensive framework for identifying these risks and opportunities. The 17 Goals can be addressed through the following 4 main priority areas for the sustainable development of the global livestock sector:

  1. Food and nutrition security. Livestock provide 35% of protein and 18% of calorie intake worldwide, but this is not equitably distributed. Poor people in LMICs often do not consume enough animal-source foods, while others – particularly in high-income countries (HICs) but increasingly in middle-income countries (MICs) – consume in excess of their dietary needs. Livestock contribute to food security on all scales. At the household level, livestock keeping ensures healthy and nutritious diets and contributes to incomes. At community level, the sector creates employment opportunities. At national and global levels, it helps provide the world’s population with sufficient and reliable supplies of nutritious, affordable and safe livestock-derived food.
  2. Livelihoods and equity. Of the 770 million people surviving on less than USD 1.90 per day, about half depend directly on livestock for their livelihoods. Livestock contribute to poverty alleviation by building resilience and supporting the livelihoods of large numbers of rural people. They also create employment in livestock agri-food systems, stimulate demand for goods and services, and promote economic transformation by contributing to human and financial capital for other sectors of the economy to develop. However, alongside the benefits of livestock keeping lie issues of equality. Large numbers of low-income livestock keepers are women, yet they often have less access to productive resources and markets than men, preventing them from deriving significant benefits from their livestock. Child labor is common in the livestock sector, with young boys and girls tending herds and flocks instead of going to school. Growth is not even, with the majority occurring in intensive systems and with relatively little contribution from smallholder producers. As livestock agri-food systems expand to meet demand, millions of smallholder livestock producers – efficient but not competitive – are forced to abandon the business altogether
  3. Health and animal welfare. Human health is closely linked to the health and welfare of animals and to that of the environment. This is the principle underpinning “One Health”, whereby livestock agri-food systems are at the crossroads of human, animal and environmental health. Animal diseases constrain production and reduce livestock’s contribution to resilient livelihoods, economic growth and food and nutrition security. For example, the 2001 Foot-and-Mouth Disease (FMD) outbreak in the United Kingdom cost the economy about USD 14 billion, while the cost of the 2016 and 2017 avian influenza outbreaks may have surpassed that figure. Antimicrobial consumption by livestock is almost three times that in human medicine. Inappropriate use in livestock exacerbates the development of antimicrobial resistance (AMR) in livestock pathogens, which compromises treatment and readily spreads to the human population.
  4. Livestock are raised in a large variety of agroecosystems and are key to the livelihoods of hundreds of millions of poor rural and urban people. They provide food, fiber, income, economic assets and various services like traction. Domestic animals -such as poultry, pigs, cattle sheep, goats, buffaloes and other species- and their numerous different breeds allow people to live and thrive under harsh climatic constraints, at high elevations, in remote areas and even in desertic environments. But livestock are also large users of natural resources, such as land and nutrients, and contribute significantly to climate change.

Policies for sustainable livestock development need to enhance the role of livestock in agroecosystems, improve the efficiency in natural resource use and reduce the environmental impact of livestock supply chains.