Efforts to reduce human consumption of animal-sourced foods because of global warming should not prevent women and children in developing countries from eating it, a report suggests.
New research has found “demonstrable nutritional benefits” of providing children, particularly in countries in Africa and South East Asia, with livestock-derived foods such as meat, milk and eggs in the first 1,000 days of life.
Published by the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI) and Chatham House, the report concluded it was possible to meet the nutritional needs of the most vulnerable, even if total global livestock production slowed down.
Failing to exploit the economic contributions and nutritional benefits livestock rearing has in poor countries would be irresponsible, a Chatham House director said.
Dr Osman Dar, director of the One World-One Health Project at the Chatham House, said: “The many health and environmental concerns around livestock-derived food production and consumption in high-income countries are of legitimate concern.
“But the poor choices of the rich should not be a reason to limit nutritional choices for the poor.
“Considering that global nutrient requirements in the first 1,000 days of life are a small proportion of total food production, the production of meat, milk and eggs for young children and new mothers could be prioritised even in the face of overall reductions in supply to reduce the global environmental pressure from livestock production.”
The report recommends that the availability and affordability of safe livestock-derived foods in low and middle income countries should be increased.
Despite progress to tackle poor nutrition in young children across the world, one in four children under five were stunted in growth in 2014, according to Unicef.
But consuming meat, eggs and milk in the first 1,000 days of life can improve a child’s prospects of growth, cognition and development, the report said.
Deficiencies in key micronutrients – such as iron and zinc – are also common among children and pregnant women in developing countries.
Such deficiencies can be improved by consuming livestock-derived foods as they are among the richest and most efficient sources of necessary micronutrients and fatty acids – a woman would have to eat eight times more spinach than cow’s liver to get the same levels of iron.
The report also recommended more research be conducted into food safety, given the associations between livestock and foodborne disease.