Terrestrial animal source food can also help address low birth weight, anaemia in women of reproductive age & overweight among children under 5 years
Animal food products like meat, eggs and milk can contribute significantly towards meeting global nutrition targets, according to the Food and Agriculture Organization.
The world is not on track to attain several of the nutrition targets set by the World Health Assembly and UN-mandated Sustainable Development Goals. But terrestrial animal source food (TASF), which includes all food products derived from livestock production systems of any scale and wild animals, can help achieve the milestones related to reducing stunting and wasting among children under five years of age, said FAO in the report released March 25, 2023.
It can also help address issues such as low birth weight, anaemia in women of reproductive age (15-49 years), overweight among children under five years of age and obesity in adults, the report said.
TASF offers crucial nutrients which cannot easily be obtained from plant-based foods. Meat and dairy products are a rich source of macro-nutrients which includes protein, fats and carbohydrates, the document highlighted.
For instance, consuming milk and dairy products during pregnancy helps increase infants’ birth weight. Consumption of such products by school-going children and adolescents helps increase their height and reduces overweight and obesity.
Iron and vitamin A deficiencies are the most common micronutrient deficits faced by populations across the world. And a significant share of micronutrient deficiencies are borne by children and pregnant women in low- and middle-income countries, according to the World Health Organization.
TASF are also a source of micro-nutrients that are hard to find in plants “in the required quality and quantity,” said the FAO report. However, TASF may play a very minor role in populations practising vegetarianism, it added.
A graph representing Global Nutrition Targets. Source: FAO.
The global nutrition crisis faced by the world even before the COVID-19 pandemic has become far worse, with worrying trends of every form of malnutrition, from hunger to obesity, Global nutrition report, 2022 had flagged.
Globally, 20.5 million newborns (14.6 per cent of all live births) have a low weight at birth. Of all children under five years of age, around 149.2 million (22 per cent) are stunted, 45.4 million (6.7 per cent) are wasted and 38.9 million (5.7 per cent) are overweight, the document highlighted.
The report also highlighted significant variations in the consumption pattern of animal-based food across the world.
In Africa, 11 per cent of the total caloric supply is from TASF, in comparison to the global average of 21 per cent. Even within the African continent, Eastern Africa and Middle Africa consume the lowest levels of TASF (six per cent), followed by Western Africa (four per cent).
Globally, 47 per cent of children between six and 23 months of age consume dairy and 22 per cent consume eggs. However, this masks the significant disparity between the poorest and wealthiest countries. For instance, a person in South Sudan consumes 2 grams of egg on average per year compared to an average of 25 kg for a person in Hong Kong, said FAO.
The report also called for further research on food-safety risk assessment of cell-cultured meat produced at an industrial scale. Plant-based food and cell-cultured meat have been gaining ground in recent years. While some products can mimic the taste and texture of TASF, these products cannot replace TASF in terms of nutritional composition, said FAO.
Cell-based meat is produced using animal cell culture technology. Here, meat is produced from animal cells using a combination of biotechnology, tissue engineering, molecular biology and synthetic processes.
The report, based on data and evidence from over 500 scientific papers and 250 policy documents, is the most comprehensive analysis of the benefits and risks of consuming animal-source foods, claimed FAO in a statement.
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