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Global Forum on Food Security and Nutrition • FSN Forum

Re: Maximizing the Impact of the UN Decade of Action on Nutrition

Emily Lewis-Brown
Emily Lewis-BrownPhD studentUnited Kingdom

Compassion in World Farming is grateful for the opportunity to share our views on how best to maximise the potential of the UN Decade of Action on Nutrition (DAN). We are pleased that the DAN, as well as SDG2, includes action to eradicate all forms of malnutrition and provides data for obesity-related as well as hunger-related malnutrition.

While Compassion works primarily to improve farm animal welfare, we find that this is consistent with improving nutrition, as well as reducing malnutrition in all its forms.

Overview: Consequently, Compassion would like to present four key related issues:

1. Research shows that animal sourced foods (ASF) from higher welfare farms (e.g. free-range/organic) tend to be of higher nutritional value than intensively farmed ASF[i];

2. Due to limited resources and capacity to cope with pollution, research shows that high meat-consuming diets cannot be accommodated across the world[ii], and grain-based animal farming detracts from the food base[iii] putting the most food insecure at further risk[iv].  

3. The recent HLPE report to the CFS finds that “The consensus of expert medical advice is that, in developed and some emerging countries, people should reduce their consumption of a number of ASF, in particular of red and processed meats”[v];

4. Through public policy, education, regulation of the market, and business practices, shifts in consumption patterns can be encouraged to allow contraction and convergence of consumption of foods, particularly ASF, with benefits to malnutrition in all its forms.

Discussion: Compassion in World Farming works primarily on improving Farm Animal Welfare for the 70bilion animals farmed for food each year. Around two thirds of farm animals are farmed intensively[vi], typically bred for very rapid growth and high yield, and are fed concentrated feeds and grains; with extreme confinement, physical mutilations, and other physical and psychological suffering. However, research finds that intensively farmed ASF are of lower nutritional value than ASF from animals that are longer-lived, slower growing breeds, have space to roam and can graze and foragei. The iron content was higher in free-range/organic pig-meat, chicken and trout than intensively farmed counter-parts. Similar findings were found for levels of carotenoinds and Vitamin E, where data was available for beef, pig-meat, chicken, milk and eggs. And the proportion of Omega-3 to Omega-6 was consistently better in free-range/organic/slower-growing lamb, beef, pigs, chickens, trout, and with milk and eggs. Other nutrients have not been examined yet.

Many animals, particularly sheep, goats, and cattle, can contribute positively to human nutrition by producing ASF which people can eat, from animals that eat roughage and grass that humans can not eat, and from marginal lands that are not adequate for growing crops for human consumption. Pigs and poultry can be used to re-cycle crop residues and wastes and forage in woodlands and rough pasture.

The shift to intensive livestock farming in many industrialised nations has lead to an increasingly heavy dependence upon grain-based concentrated feeds that are high energy, to drive high growth rates and high milk and egg yields. Removed from the land, animals can no longer graze or forage for food, or utilise crop residues and wastes as the excessive breeding and yields renders them reliant on high-energy feed. Thus, they are competing with humans for land and grain that could otherwise be used to feed people. Using human-grade crops to feed to animals is inherently inefficient, as much of the energy inputted into the animal is lost in the process, and only a fraction is available to the consumer.  The Earth, her resources and capacity to process pollution must be considered as finite; and industrial farming a heavy burden on our resources: the more ASF that are over-consumed in some populations, the less food is available for under-nourished malnourished people.

Additionally, the use of grade, land and other resources for over-consuming diets can have negative economic impacts on the nutrition of the poor – by inflating grain prices.

Intensive industrial farming has also fuelled over-consumption of ASF and lead to a public health crisis. High consumption of some meats, particularly processed meats, are linked to some cancers, heart disease and some forms of strokes.  Ischaemic heart disease and stroke are the two most prevalent causes of death in the world, each twice as common as the third and fourth causes of death[vii].

A reduction in obesity through a reduction in the over-consumption of ASF will bring triple benefits:

1.     improve the malnutrition and general health of those suffering with obesity and associated high-meat-diet related-diseases;

2.     reduce the impact of these diets on the climate and therefore improve the food production capacity of small-scale rural poor farmers who may suffer malnutrition;

3.     free up grain and grain-grade land, phosphorus and other resources for food production for under-nourished malnourished people.

Raising the nutritional status of undernourished people is vital, and while ASF can be an important source of nutrients, ASF are not always the most culturally or economically most suitable option. Supporting small-scale, extensive, mixed farming is important to optimise the contribution that animals can provide to eradicating malnutrition, and government support through veterinary services and insurances is vital. Government intervention to protect access to markets and the livelihoods, and access to land of poor farmers, especially of women, is key. It is important that public policy prevents industrialisation of livestock farming in regions where water, high-grade land and soil, fossil fuels, and high-grade grain are not in surplus.

1  What are your expectations for the UN Decade of Action on Nutrition and how could it make a significant difference in improving nutrition and food security of the people in your country within the next ten years?

Compassion in World Farming is based in the UK, founded by a dairy farmer, and operates in several EU nations, and the USA primarily. Thus, in these countries the primary contribution that the Decade of Action on Nutrition (DAN) can play is to address obesity from the over-consumption of Animal Sourced Foods (ASF) as this is directly related to several diseased linked with premature mortality, but also a serious driver of malnutrition from over consumption.

Diets high in ASF from industrial intensive farming also have a disproportionately and unsustainably high use of inputs and pollution outputs, degrading the food and farming option space available for others on Earth, especially people and farmers in environments and climates that are marginal for food production. Therefore, addressing overconsumption in the UK, EU and USA will also help provide resource space for addressing malnutrition from undernourishment in the global south. Addressing overconsumption in the UK, EU and USA successfully will also create and demonstrate a set of usable methodologies and approaches for success which can be a role model and rolled out by other nations and regions which are increasingly suffering from this public health and malnutrition crisis, as the western diet, saturated in ASF spreads globally.

The DAN is the best opportunity to open a frank and constructive discussion around over-consumption; starting with defining the issue; agreeing on acceptable terms that can be used in the CFS and other fora. Currently, debate is stifled by taboo and a lack of agreed language on this issue.

2  What critical activities need to be included in the Work Programme for the implementation of the UN Decade of Action on Nutrition to reach the 2025 global nutrition targets? Which activities would need to be accelerated in your country to reach these targets? How could these activities be funded?

Funding should be through public finances, rather than business or foundation donations, to maintain impartiality, democracy, and public accountability. An assessment of perverse subsidies, taxes, tax-breaks, policies, market activities, trade agreements, and practices that contribute to malnutrition in all its forms should be undertaken and actions implemented. The true cost, including externalities, of malnutrition in all its forms should also be undertaken, to identify opportunities to lever the action on nutrition. Prevention programmes to reverse the shift to high ASF diets and overconsumption the most effective way of eradicating over-nutrition related malnutrition, as such youth initiatives and school programmes should be considered.

3  What can be done to accelerate and improve the quality of commitments from the various actors? What role(s) should public and private actors play in monitoring their implementation?

The role of private companies and major donor countries and foundations must be very carefully scrutinized and regulated to ensure that the nutrition, food security, and food production capacity of small-scale mixed farming and pastoralists are protected; and that farm animal welfare is not compromised.

How can other relevant forums, such as the CFS and the UNSCN, contribute, and how can other movements (e.g. human rights, environment) be involved in the Decade?

Open dialogue, consultations and other means of seeking the input of civil society, scientists, and other knowledge and opinion holders who are dedicated to the eradication of malnutrition in all its forms should be sought through mechanisms sich as the FSN forum, and other means as used effectively in The World We Want process for example. For CFS, it is of prime importance that the dialogue about addressing overconsumption related malnutrition is not closed down by member states or other stakeholders. Agreed language will be important to establish in 2016/17 during the production and revision of the HLPE report and the policy recommendations that come from this process.

Conclusion: malnutrition from both under and over nutrition affects approximately half of the world, and obesity related malnutrition is increasing. Fortunately, there are win-wins available: reducing the over-consumption of ASF and moving away from intensive grain-fed farming systems and supporting small-scale extensive mixed farming can help bring about improvements in nutrition and food security for those people who are malnourished through obesity and those who are malnourished through under-nourishment; as well as improving the lives of farm animals significantly.

The development of open dialogue and agreed language will be key to facilitating progress on addressing over-consumption related malnutrition and overconsumption related over-use of resource and food production option space. Managing the influence of large foundations, companies and others who may inadvertently exacerbate malnutrition should be comprehensive; while balancing this with the important and valuable participation of civil society, researchers, and the views, needs, opinions, and preferences of those most affected by malnutrition in all its forms. Again, Compassion would like to thank the organisers for this opportunity to input into this process.

Emily Lewis, October 16th 2016.

[i] Pickett, H. 2012. Nutritional Benefits of Higher Welfare Animal Products. Pp1-43. (For a quick guide to the results, see summary table 3 on page 33.)

[ii] Karl-Heinz Erb, Andreas Mayer, Thomas Kastner, Kristine-Elena Sallet, Helmut Haberl, 2012: The Impact of Industrial Grain Fed Livestock Production on Food Security: an extended literature review. Pp 1-82.

[iii] FAO (2011) World Livestock 2011: Livestock in food security, UN FAO, Rome.

[iv] Karl-Heinz Erb et al. ibid

[v] HLPE, 2016. Sustainable agricultural development for food security and nutrition: what roles for livestock? A report by the High Level Panel of Experts on Food Security and Nutrition of the Committee on World Food Security, Rome 2016. Full report

[vi] CIWF accessed 2016.

[vii] WHO data accessed Oct. 2016