Nutrition and Its Role in Sustainable Beef

Nutrition is a hot topic at the moment, particularly in relation to sustainability of food systems. There are many calls for drastic reductions in consumption of animal source foods from such organisations as EAT Lancet, the WEF and others. There has also been support from our members for GRSB to bring nutrition into focus as a topic for further discussion and inclusion in our activities, and possibly in our goal setting.

Clearly, GRSB does not exist to promote beef per se. There are national organisations worldwide as well as alliances of meat producing countries that already do this. Our role is to ensure that the sustainability of beef production is continuously improving, so that it remains a trusted part of a thriving food system. The underlined part is taken from our vision statement, and is an entry point for any discussion of how we might tackle the issue of nutrition and consumption.

Though it is not necessarily our role to point out that, in fact, fossil fuels are the largest contributor to human induced climate change, it certainly is our job to make very clear that it is possible to produce livestock in ways that limit climate impact, are nature positive, and provide animals with a life worth living.

I consider that access to a full range of nutrients to maintain human health is equally important. In this context, recall the findings that Ty Beal presented at GCSB 22 in Denver. 48% of pre-school children in the UK already show a core deficiency, and 31% are deficient in iron. Those figures for the UK are worse than those for Ethiopia. For non-pregnant women in the UK between 15 and 49, 43% had a core deficiency and 21% were iron deficient. For the US, the same figures were 32% had any core deficiency and 22% were iron deficient. For Ethiopia while 49% of women had any core deficiency, only 9% were iron deficient.

Overall, the study estimates that over 370 million pre-school children and 1.2 billion non-pregnant women worldwide are deficient in micronutrients, which clearly point not only to inadequate food supply in some regions of the globe, but also inadequate dietary intake in countries where availability is not the limiting factor.

In a paper published this January in the Journal of Nutrition, Ty Beal and a number of colleagues concluded:

“Efforts by governments and civil society organizations to increase or decrease ASF consumption should be considered in light of the nutritional and environmental needs and risks in the local context and, importantly, integrally involve the local stakeholders impacted by any changes. Policies, programs, and incentives are needed to ensure best practices in production, curb excess consumption where high, and sustainably increase consumption where low.”

Such a message is better and more nuanced coming from GAIN, the Institute for Social, Behavioral and Economic Research, University of California, Stanford Prevention Research Center, Stanford University School of Medicine or the UN FAO than it would be coming directly from GRSB, but we must share this information with all of its nuance and make the point to policy makers that the food system is not just something that can be changed on a whim without consequences.

There are signs that the consumer recognises that nutritional value is more important than typically presented by advocates of a wholesale shift away from animal source foods. The Dutch consumer organisation has pointed out that very few “meat replacers” can be considered a healthy fit within their nutritional guidelines, and cite stagnating interest from consumers themselves in these products.

While some people undoubtedly consume more meat than they need, there are plenty of people in the world who could benefit from a little more animal source food in their diets; reducing availability will have a disproportionate effect on the poor. There are many countries and areas in the world that have very limited potential to produce human edible crops and the livelihoods of people, particularly the poor, in those countries often depend upon livestock.

— Ruaraidh Petre, Executive Director

Ruaraidh Petre, Executive Director of GRSB