Livestock critical to human health and global food security

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iStock Livestock production is critical to the food security and livelihood of the world’s population. And livestock may be even more important for the people in the world’s poorest societies.

That’s the message delivered by Joyce Turk at last month’s 44th Annual Conference of the American Association of Bovine Practitioners (AABP) held in St. Louis, Mo. Speaking at AABP’s General Session 2 on Global Food Security, Turk discussed the importance of animal-based foods to human health and food security in her presentation, “Global Demand for Animal Source Foods.”

“The livestock sector globally employs 1.3 billion people, either directly or indirectly, and is responsible for up to 50% of global agriculture GDP,” Turk said.

As the Senior Livestock Advisor, Bureau of Food Security, for the U.S. Agency for International Development, Turk has witnessed how malnutrition and micronutrient deficiencies cause 3.5 to 5.5 million deaths annually in children under 5 years-of-age.

An example of livestock’s importance to food security is currently playing out in the Horn of Africa, now in the midst of the worst drought in 60 years. The crisis has affected 12 million people, and child malnutrition rates are gauged to be up to 55%. The 7 million residents of Somalia face starvation. “In Africa, livestock are absolutely critical to livelihoods and to life,” Turk said.

Because a significant proportion of the African population are herders, “there is no better example of livestock to food security and to livelihoods than this production system.”

Turk says African relief experts are emphasizing that the loss of animals is a “critical factor driving families to destitution, famine and death from starvation.”

During her presentation at AABP, Turk outlined why animal source foods need greater attention from those trying to help African residents during this crisis. She says animal source foods provide 15% of total food energy, and 25% of total dietary protein. Additionally, the biological value of animal source protein is about 1.4 times that of plant foods.

“The most critical part is that essential amino acids and micronutrients are more bio-available in animal source foods than from plant based foods,” she said. “Animal source foods are critical for immune system functions, cognitive and physical development, work productivity and the life span and quality of life.”

As evidence of the importance of animal-source foods, Turk cited a study conducted by the Global Livestock Collaborative Services Support Program that measured the impact of diets supplemented with meat and milk in 544 Kenyan school children over a 23-month period.

“Those children that received meat in their diets gained 30% to 80% of lean body mass during the 23 months of the study,” Turk says. “Those that received milk but no meat in their diets showed a positive gain in height.”

The study also indicates that animal source foods are a predictor of cognitive function. Turk also cited a study conducted by the University of Southern Australia that demonstrated consuming dairy products at least once per day “is associated with a significant improvement in a range of mental functions, including abstract reasoning.”

Turk says research underscores the importance of livestock production to human health and food security. “The behavior response of children receiving animal-source foods in their diets is very positive. They are more active and more dynamic.”

Read more news from the 2011 AABP here.

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