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The designations employed and the presentation of material in this publication do not imply the expression of any opinion whatsoever on the part of the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations concerning the legal status of any country, territory, city or area or of its authorities, or concerning the delimitation of its frontiers or boundaries.

ISBN 92-5-103146-0

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(c) FAO 1992


The basis of a good diet - one adequate for growth, development and maintenance of health - is variety; a variety of foods can supply enough of the complete range of nutrients. Much of the malnutrition seen in the world is a result of relying too heavily on a single staple food.

Improvements in the diet depend on a knowledgable selection of foods that complement one another in the nutrients that they supply. It is, however, difficult in many regions to obtain such variety. Meat can complement most diets, especially those dependent on a limited selection of plant foods.

Meat and meat products are concentrated sources of high quality protein and their amino acid composition usually compensates for shortcomings in the staple food. They supply easily absorbed iron and assist the absorption of iron from other foods as well as zinc, and are rich sources of some of the vitamins in the B group. By providing such nutrients, meat consumption can alleviate common nutritional deficiencies.

The production of animals for meat can be integrated into the overall food system without competing directly with crops for human food; it enables utilization of land that is difficult to cultivate, and supplies valuable by-products as well as improving the fertility of the soil.

The appropriate utilization or expansion of existing sources of meat calls for coherent development of a complex system of production, processing and marketing, including aspects of finance and expertise for construction and operation of meat plants, and means of storage, meat preservation, transport and marketing.

In many regions in developing countries meat production is carried out with efficiency, and slaughter and processing are based on many of recent scientific developments. However, even in industrialized countries there is often considerable room for improvement. In other regions methods are less advanced, with poor control of sanitation, leading to considerable loss of products as well as to the risk of meat borne diseases. Improvements of techniques of slaughter and processing, especially in hygiene, would result in greater yields and higher profits. These would also provide the incentive for increased production.

While it is highly efficient in industrialized countries to specialise in single purpose animals it is often more efficient in some areas to raise dual-purpose animals. There is also scope for increased yields and efficiency by developing indigenous species for meat production, species that even without genetic selection thrive under local climatic conditions and withstand local diseases. Overall there is a great potential in the developing world to increase the production of meat and meat products to the benefit of the health of the consumer.

FAO acknowledges the contribution by Prof. A E. Bender from the UK for writing and editing the book incorporating a manuscript prepared by Mr. Hamid Ahmad from Pakistan. The book is jointly commissioned by the Food and Nutrition Division and the Animal Production and Health Division of FAO and published as part of the FAO series Food and Nutrition Papers.

This publication has been jointly commissioned by the Food Policy and Nutrition Division and the Animal Production and Health Division. The book provides information on nutrition strategies with emphasis on developing countries, and it is intended as a source of information for livestock and meat technologists, nutritionists, food scientists and dieticians concerned with the production, processing and consumption of meat for improving of the nutritional quality of the diet and health of the population.

Patrick Cunningham
Animal Production and Health Division

John R. Lupien
Food Policy and Nutrition Division

Chapter 1 - Meat production and quality

Meat and meat products

Livestock Products as Food

Current trends indicate that by the end of the century 80% of the world's population will be living in the under-developed countries and a significant number of these will have large food deficits. An increased production of animal protein would make an important contribution towards filling this deficit (FAO 1984, FAO 1985, FAO 1990A).

On a world-wide basis cereals supply more than 50% of human requirements for energy and nearly 50% of the protein. Animal products, meat, milk, eggs and animal fats, supply 17% of the energy and 32% of the protein but there are vast regional differences between developed and under-developed countries. Table 1-1A shows world production 'of the various types of meat and illustrates these differences. In Oceania and North America, for example, the amounts of protein available per caput per day from meat are 31.5 and 38.3 g respectively, compared with 4.5 g in the developing countries of Africa and 4.8 g in the Far East (FAO Food Balance Sheets, 1990).

The amounts of protein and fat from meat available per caput per day are shown in Table 1-1B. The ranges indicate considerable differences even between countries classed together as developed or developing.

In most communities meat has long occupied a special place in the diet, for a variety of reasons including taste preference, prestige, tradition and availability, with the nutritional aspects being included more recently (Rogowski 1980).

While it is true that meat is not essential in the diet and many people thrive on diets derived largely or even entirely from plant foods (so long as the amounts and variety are sufficient) there are many diets that would be considerably improved by the inclusion of even small amounts of meat and meat products. This is because, compared with plant foods, they are concentrated sources of protein and a range of vitamins and mineral salts. As little as 25 g of meat will supply 45% of a child's daily need for protein and half the vitamin B12; the addition of 100 g of meat to the average Zambian diet would increase the protein by 50%, iron by 12%, niacin by 40% and energy by 25% (Jensen 1981). Apart from supplying additional protein the amino acids in that protein complement the cereal sources of protein by making good their relative deficiency of lysine (See Chapter 3). Moreover, compared with plant foods the iron in meat is well absorbed and meat promotes the absorption of iron from other foods.

Types of Meat

Meat is the flesh and organs of animals and fowls. There are various legal definitions of meat in different countries designed to control the composition of products made with meat.

The flesh of cattle, pigs and sheep is distinguished from that of poultry by the term red meat, while the flesh of poultry (chicken, turkey, duck, pigeon, guinea fowl) is termed white meat.

In addition to the common domestic animals a wide variety of wild animals are eaten - possum, deer, rabbit, moose, caribou, bear, polar bear, seals, walruses depending on availability and local custom, as well as horse, camel, buffalo, goat, dog and rodents. Meat from non-domesticated animals is sometimes termed game meat (de Janvry and Sadoulet 1986). Overall, as indicated in Table 1-1A, by far the greater part of meat supplies is from four sources but this may not be so in certain localities.

The relative importance of these various sources of meat in the diet varies from region to region and in different cultures; many that are rejected for various reasons in one culture are fully accepted in others. In the Indian sub-continent beef is socially and economically perceived as being second class compared with lamb, mutton and poultry, while the reverse is true in most industrialized countries; many western people abhor the thought of eating dog or horse meat which is relished elsewhere; the relative demand for organ meats compared with muscle meat varies in different regions.

Production and consumption

Developing and Developed Countries

Agricultural progress in most developing countries has mainly involved an increase in the production of staple crops and the introduction of industrial crops. New varieties, improved farming techniques, greater use of fertilisers, irrigation and chemical control of pests (a group of procedures collectively termed The Green Revolution) have resulted in considerable increases in production, sufficient, in the absence of climatic disasters, to meet domestic needs in many countries and even, in some instances, to provide a surplus for export.

On the other hand developments in livestock production have lagged far behind. Although there has been an increase over the years in the amount of meat available in developing countries the quantities are small. Between 1980 and 1990 world production of meat increased by 29%; 15.6% in developed countries and 56% in developing countries, but the latter was from a very low base. The daily per caput availability of protein from meat increased by 24% but this was an increase from only 4.9 g to 6.1 g in contrast these figures increased in developed countries by 8%, from 27.4 to 33.9 g per day (FAO Food Balance Sheets).

The mean annual output of milk and meat from cattle in the developing countries of Africa and the Far East is less than one tenth of that obtained in Europe (Blaxter 1975; FAO 1990A). This is a result of traditional subsistence farming practices which provide minimum feeding and management levels to livestock. Animals in developing countries are prized mainly for their draught power (Table 1-2 and Ramaswamy, 1980) and manure world-wide some 250-300 million buffalo make a major contribution to the supply of energy; so far as food is concerned they are prized more for their milk than for their meat. Yet as per capita income rises in Third World countries the demand for meat products is rising faster than that for cereals and outpaces supplies.

The problems of meat production are complex and include multiple biological, economic and social factors. The practices of the small-holder system of livestock production need to be gradually developed so as to fit local conditions and meet increasing demands. Modern scientific practices developed in industrialized countries are rarely directly transferable to developing countries and, if they are to be transferred usually need to be adapted to local conditions.

Promotion of Livestock Production

Three main reasons have been suggested for devoting scarce financial and technical assistance to livestock production in developing countries:

1. The possibility of moving into activities with higher added value per unit of product marketed and into products with higher income elasticity of demand.

2. The possibility of increasing supplies of grain products and of diversification of marginal lands into the production of feed grain, oilseed crops and fodder crops as a result of the Green Revolution.

3. The perception of livestock as a means of increasing rural incomes and increasing rural on-farm and off-farm employment (APO 1976, Bachman and Paulino 1979, De Boer 1982).

Animal versus Plant Production

Meat production from grazing animal calculated as energy or protein yield per hectare is very inefficient when compared with plant products. Yields, of course, vary enormously from one region to another and even from one farm to another in the same region but the figures in Table 1- 3 reveal the comparative inefficiency of animal production in those terms.

Animals are, moreover, poor converters of energy into foods for human consumption; if cereal grain is fed to livestock it requires on average 7 kcal input for every kcal generated - ranging from 16 for beef production to 3 kcal for broiler chickens. One argument that has been put forward against industrial systems of meat production is the competition between animal feed and food for direct consumption by human beings. However, certain animals like ruminants are valuable as converters of inedible agricultural and industrial by-products such as bagasse, molasses, sugar cane rinds, beet pulp, cotton seed hulls, poultry manure and urea, into products of high nutritional value, and they can graze on marginal land that is otherwise of little use (FAO 1976, APO 1990).

This can be illustrated by the considerable production of milk IA India largely using feed materials unsuitable for human food. It is estimated that in the hands of the smallholder some 60% of feed comes from farm by-products and 40% from natural vegetation (Groenwold and Crossing 1975). There have been several publications on this subject - "The Role of Animals in Meeting World Food Needs" (Rockefeller 1975), "The Contribution of Livestock on Small Farms. (FAO 1976), "The Potential for Livestock in Farm Diversification" (APO 1990) - but developments have been slow in most countries of the Third World.

Increasing Demand for Meat Products in Developing Countries

Increasing populations and increased demand per capita together with moderately rapid to rapid income growth lead not only to an increased demand for staple foods but also for preferred foods including, particularly, meat products (see income elasticities of demand Table 1-4). As a result meat consumption grew in the Third World between 1961-65 and 1973-77 at an average rate of 3.4%, and in the fast growth economies at more than 6% (Sarma and Young 1985). The expected average meat consumption by the year 2000 is 20 kg/head/year with a deficit in production of some 20-25 m tonnes. Meat consumption between countries varies from 4 kg per head per annum in low income groups to 35 kg in high income groups. In general there is a relation between income and the consumption of animal products but this does not always hold.

The growing demand for meat products that accompanies rising income has been paralleled by increasing interest in food quality, safety and nutritional aspects, which all give rise to appropriate legislation.

In some countries where economic growth has been rapid and sustained over a considerable period of time the contribution of the livestock subsector to agricultural gross domestic product has increased substantially. In Korea, for example, it increased from 5.4% of agricultural GDP in 1961 to 15.4% in 1973. In Taiwan (Chang 1981) it rose from 18% in the period 1952-57 to 29.5% in 1977. These figures can be viewed against an overall average increase of 1040% in developing countries and of 60% in the United States.

In most developing countries, however, the low level of meat supplies is due to the low return of resources devoted to animal production, which, in turn, depends on the low purchasing power of the vast majority of the population (FAO 1990A).

Constraints on Meat Production

Other constraints on meat production include inadequate feeding and poor management of animals, to which must be added animal health problems, lack of skilled manpower, problems arising from land tenure, lack of financial resources, and poor rural infrastructure - roads, power, health care, marketing organisation.

There is a great deal of illegal or poorly supervised slaughter which means that regulations are not being enforced, and conditions are unhygienic. Disease, parasites and poor management of all aspects of meat production impede progress. It is estimated that world-wide per year up to 50 million head of cattle and buffaloes and 100 million sheep and goats die from disease and parasites - mostly in the Third World. Even greater losses of production are estimated to arise from ailing and unthrifty animals and from poor handling before slaughter. In many regions of developing countries animals trek to market, often with inadequate feed and water and under considerable stress which lead to losses of both of weight and quality of meat. In parts of Africa, for example, it is estimated that there is often a 30% loss of weight and 10% mortality on the way to market.

In most areas animals are slaughtered on a simple slab, usually at night or in the early morning when the temperature is lower, and the meat is sold without refrigeration or further processing within a few hours.

The general disregard for grades and quality of meat both in buying and selling does not encourage investment to improve meat output. A more discerning market tends to develop with economic growth, and both producers and consumers would benefit by sale and purchase on grade and quality bases.

Increased Production and Productivity

Increases in meat production can be encouraged by stable profitable outlets in connection with improved processing and handling facilities and consequently large-scale investment. Loan institutions are usually not geared to make loans to small farmers because the administrative costs of small loans are relatively high and so some 70-80% of small farmers in most developing countries do not have access to institutional credit.

Shortage of trained personnel is another constraint on livestock production; there is a need for skilled producers, processors, distributors, extension advisers and technicians. Lack of qualified control personnel and veterinarians leads to enormous losses in quality and quantity of livestock products.

Lack of refrigeration and other preservation techniques results in considerable losses and can lead to public health problems. If animal production is to compete with crop production intended for direct consumption by human beings, then the efficiency of meat production and meat processing must be greatly increased (FAO 1990B). This is of particular importance for the supply of meat to growing populations.

Increasing Yields

There are many and continuing developments in the western world that increase productivity of animals ranging from artificial insemination of animals with synchronized oestrus and embryo transfer to recombinant DNA technology intended to improve growth and feed conversion. These are far from practicable in most parts of the developing world and, instead, there would seem to be considerable potential in making better use of indigenous animals and more immediate gains from better handling before and during slaughter and from closer control of processing.

The resources necessary for livestock production include water, feed, land, labour, capital and energy. Efficiency of output can be related to any of these and so what is perceived as efficiency will differ with the measure and local availability of these resources.

For example, it is common practice in intensive farming in the west to keep species separate and while this is efficient on managed pasture with a sward consisting of a few species of plants it may not be the most efficient method in developing regions since a mixture of types of animals can make better use of the wide variety of grazing species from grasses and legumes through creeping plants to tree-leaves.

One of the biological constraints on the production of animal products is poor food conversion efficiency by the animals, in particular meat-producing animals. Scientific progress has been made in industrialized countries in selective breeding for strains with high feed conversion efficiency that could be adapted to meet the needs of developing countries (Blaxter 1975, De Boer 1982).

Age of Slaughter

One aspect of yield of meat is the age of slaughter in relation to maximum feed conversion efficiency, which applies to animals reared solely for meat. In the early stages when growth is rapid there is comparatively good return of meat for feed consumed. This declines with increasing maturity and at a later stage the weight gain is largely fat - which may or may not be wanted by the consumer but is, in any case, an inefficient procedure.

Thus efficiency of production of livestock products can be improved by appropriate livestock management to capitalise liveweight gain potential of young animals, adequate assessment of marketing premiums for carcass characteristics, together with genetic selection and the use of multi-purpose animals.

Multi Purpose Animals

While maximum feed conversion efficiency can be achieved by specialising in the production of one product such as milk, eggs or flesh, it may be more efficient overall, despite a small loss of efficiency of production of any one product, to use animals for more than one purpose such as milk and meat or eggs and flesh (multi-purpose animals). It has been shown that dual-purpose beef-milk animals are more energy efficient for the same mix of final products than specialist systems - 44% compared with 34% (Preston 1977).

The choice between specialist and multi-purpose animals will depend on the socioeconomic aspects of the whole process and, to some extent, on the demands of the consumer. Slaughter of culled animals that have completed their life cycle as milk or egg producers results in tough meat typical of old animals, which may or may not suit the consumer. The extreme example comes from the Third World where draught animals are slaughtered when they cease to be economically useful for traction; however, tough meat is often acceptable locally where the meat is cut into small pieces and thoroughly cooked.

Fuller Use of Animal Tissues

The profitability of livestock production can be increased by making fuller use of the available animal tissues (Table 1-5). This requires special attention to separation of the organ meats and to the preparation of by-products. There is often considerable loss of these food materials from spoilage which can be reduced only by greatly improved hygiene and handling. In large-scale processing units with long distribution chains this invariably demands refrigeration. The small-scale sector can manage to market these products through short distribution chains without refrigeration which in any case is not available in most of these premises.

Unusual Species

There is potential in currently unexploited indigenous animals as sources of meat. Wild animals supplement domestic meat supplies in many parts of the world and there would appear to be considerable potential in developing these animals as managed meat producers. They are already adapted to local environments and so have advantages over imported stock and they appear to be resistant to many diseases that affect domestic livestock. Developments of this kind have already taken place in many countries illustrating this potential e.g. the farming of red deer in Scotland, hybrid deer in New Zealand (Ainger 1991), bison and water buffalo in other areas. Giraffe, elephant, hippopotamus, antelope, rhinoceros and possum can be added to the list; game reserves could be exploited as managed sources of meat.

These indigenous species are unselected and so there is considerable potential in selective breeding for improved growth rates, adequate production per unit of land and improved carcass composition where this is necessary to satisfy the consumer. One comparison between buffaloes and cattle showed that the former gained more weight than the cattle - 0.7 kg per day compared with 0.5 kg - but the dressing-out weight of the carcass was 47% compared with 50% (FAO 1976). The considerable improvements that have been achieved by breeding plans (originally by traditional but more recently by scientifically-based methods) and, above all, by improved overall management in the well-known domestic species indicate the potential achievement if such methods were applied to indigenous species.

It is not possible to arrive at "average" performance of animals since there are such large variations and so much depends on management but comparisons can be made through the "normal" levels of performance. Table 1-6 indicates "normal" levels of performance of some of the commoner domesticated and less common species (Spedding and Hoxey 1975). These animals, of course, may have differing potentials for improvement through feeding, management and disease control.

Inter Breeding

Some indigenous species will interbreed with conventional livestock and so provide important genetic reservoirs for maintaining and improving the quality of the stock.

Their use in meat production could also offer protection to some threatened or endangered species which might otherwise become extinct. Examples are species such as benteng in Indonesia, yak of Central Asia's high country and mithan of the border regions of India, Burma and Bangladesh.

Use is already being made of domestic bovine hybrids; the madura in Central Asia is a hybrid between benteng and cattle; domestic forms of at least two Asian pig species (the Indonesian wild boar and the Sulawesiwarty pig) are important husbandry animals. Other advantages of using unusual species are that some can subsist without encroaching on the feed requirements of others since they eat different species of plants or different parts of the same species, and feed at different times of the day and at different heights from the ground.

Buffalo as a Meat Source

In many countries - Italy, Egypt, Bulgaria, Australia, Venezuela - Buffalo has been developed as an animal resource to produce meat and has been shown to equal and surpass local cattle in growth, environmental tolerance, health and production of meat and calves. Popular misconception about the toughness of buffalo meat is largely due to its consumption after a life as a draught animal; however, when raised for meat and slaughtered at a young age the steaks are lean and appear to be as attractive as beef. Several trials have shown a preference for buffalo steaks over beef steaks; for example the demand for buffalo steaks in the northern territory of Australia exceeds supply and much of the meat in the Philippines is from buffalo. Another plus point is that buffalo meat is accepted by Hindus who forbid the slaughter of cows.

The buffalo is comfortable in a hot, humid environment, and is more resistant to ticks and other diseases. Raising buffalo not only as a draught animal but also as a meat producer could make a major contribution to meat supplies in many parts of the world. It is already exported from India and Pakistan to Thailand, South-east Asia and the Middle East.

At the other end of the size scale is the rabbit, which has a high reproductive rate and yields a quick profit and is free from most social and religious taboos.

Integration with Crop Production

A consideration of meat production solely in terms of its conversion ratio from crops is incomplete since the development of livestock calls for closer integration between animal and crop production. Livestock and crop activities complement each other at farm level; the crop sector supplies fodder for the livestock (Hudson 1976,

Jobling and Jobling 1983), and the livestock provide draught and traction power for crop production as well as manure, and make use of crop residues.

Supplies of fodder can be increased by cultivating varieties with higher yields, fodder can be produced in periods between major cash crops and crop production itself benefits from the application of manure.

Animals yield more than just meat - wool and hair, hides and pelts from the skins, traction power needed for cartage, herding of the animals, irrigation, and transport of the crops, and they produce waste materials that can be used for fuel and biogas production as well as fertiliser (Table 1-7).

Reduction of losses


In many developing countries the slaughter of animals is traditionally carried out in unsuitable buildings by untrained staff with little attention to sanitary principles. Preslaughter handling is poor and sometimes leads to spread of infection during transportation and in overcrowded lairages, as well as to loss of weight. The condition of the animal can deteriorate within a few days between selection for slaughter and actual slaughter: fatigue and lack of food will deplete muscles of glycogen which may result in quality deficiencies of the meat after slaughter. While walking animals to market is apparently the cheapest method of transport the loss of weight and the mortality may make this method expensive.

Traditional methods of processing and marketing also militate against quality. Even in larger towns abattoirs that have been specifically designed to supply meat to the expanding centres of urban population too often suffer from unsatisfactory hygiene. Sanitary regulations, where they do exist, may be disregarded and not enforced.

Some of the traditional slaughter operations, developed when they served a small local population, are carried out in the open, on a slab, hanging under a tree or from a fixture in a walled area. There are no cooling facilities and to counter tropical temperatures slaughter is sometimes carried out at night, when it is cooler and the meat transported and sold before mid-day.

In some areas in developing countries the retailer buys live animals from a livestock market or from farms and carries out the slaughter himself and carts the carcass to his retail outlet.

In smaller slaughterhouses this system has to be tolerated but supervision by veterinary authorities is essential. However, in larger operations slaughter should be carried out by a trained staff of abattoir workers in order to maintain the necessary standard of hygiene.

Care must be taken in slaughter and handling since, for example, improper and insufficient bleeding does not allow the necessary degree of acidity to develop in the meat and shortens shelf-life; improper dehiding of the carcass leads to heavy contamination; improper evisceration through accidental opening of stomach and tripes spreads contamination; contact with unclean materials during transport adds to contamination.


The commonest method of prolonging the shelf life of meat is by cooling. Meat is first chilled after slaughter. It may be kept chilled if there is only a short period of time for distribution. For longer storage periods meat has to be frozen. The shelf life of all typs of unpackaged meat held at chilling temperature, 0C to + PC or even better -1C to +4C, is only between a few days and one to two weeks - depending on the cut of meat, temperature, bacterial load and relative humidity. The shelf life is much longer at freezing temperatures and depends on circumstances such as whether or not it is packaged, type of packaging temperature, etc. Table 1-8 gives some indication of safe storage times at different freezing temperatures; under optimal conditions shelf life can be even longer than indicated.

Most processed meat products also need to be kept refrigerated from the time of processing until their consumption.

However, the provision of refrigeration presents one of the biggest problems in many areas of developing countries since supplies of electricity are often inadequate. If meat has to be stored then greater use must be made of other methods of preservation.

Traditional Methods of Meat Preservation

Traditionally foods have been preserved by salting, drying and smoking, methods that have been improved by modern technology.

The simplest and most commonly used method is drying in the open air under the influence of wind and sun. Under favourable climatic conditions a product of good quality can be obtained but otherwise losses from spoilage, infestation and contamination can be excessive; and meat is susceptable to natural predators.

Artificial drying plants which are used in advanced meat processing are energycapital- and technology-intensive, and require skilled labour. They are not suitable for the needs of small-scale producers in developing countries who manufacture small quantities for short periods throughout the year.

An alternative is the type of fuelled mechanical dryer used in humid tropical regions to dry export commodities such as cocoa, coffee and copra. They use wood or charcoal as fuel so their use is restricted to areas where there are abundant supplies of wood.

In other areas the most suitable solution may be to improve existing sun-dry methods or to introduce solar drying, a method by which sun drying is enhanced. The process is best carried out in an enclosed structure so the product is protected from rain, dust, insects and predators and reduces the risk of deterioration of quality and spoilage both during the drying process and during subsequent storage (FAO 1990c).

There are many traditional dried meat products in various regions around the world pastrami in Turkey, Egypt and Armenia, charque in South America, kilishi in Nigeria and West Africa, qwanta in Ethiopia and East Africa, biltong in South Africa. Local requirements, tastes and facilities will obviously influence decisions as to whether dried meat is acceptable and also the most useful process.

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