GAIN Discussion Paper Series 5 - The role of animal-source foods in healthy, sustainable, and equitable food systems

Among the major issues facing the global population are persistent malnutrition (including both undernutrition and overweight/obesity), climate change, and environmental degradation. At the crossroads of these issues, animal-source foods (ASF; meat, poultry, fish, dairy, and eggs) have attracted considerable attention for both their role in diets and their environmental impacts - and their production also plays an important role in livelihoods, particularly in low- and middle-income countries (LMICs). As these issues are intertwined, they must be considered jointly and with sufficient recognition of the nuance involved.

This paper aims to add to this debate through a review and discussion of evidence on ASF spanning several dimensions: nutrition, health, environment, livelihoods, and equity. We discuss the nutritional properties of different types of ASF and their potential for preventing undernutrition, then consider potential health risks associated with the consumption of certain ASF. We next turn to production, summarising how various ASF production systems affect the environment, indicating that there is considerable variability depending on context and animal. We note some gaps in the environmental impacts literature, then consider the role of animal production in livelihoods as well as equity concerns. We then briefly discuss diets with potentially lower environmental impacts.

The paper concludes by bringing together these different dimensions to summarise potential ways forward for decision making around ASF - whilst making clear how nuanced and context-specific such decisions must be.