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769. Are Animal Products Friend or Foe?

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769.Are Animal Products Friend or Foe?

The debate about the role of animal-source foods (ASF) including meat, fish, eggs and dairy, in a healthy and environmentally sustainable diet is often polarized. Today we present a review article by Beal et al. (2023) that summarizes the current evidence on the health and environmental benefits and risks of ASFs. The following is a summary of some of the important points in this review article.
ASFs are rich in essential nutrients that play an important role in human health and can help address nutritional deficiencies, particularly in low-income countries in sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia. For example, one essential nutrient, vitamin B12, is rarely found in plant-based foods. Also, in terms of bioavailability, animal foods contain more bioavailable forms of vitamin A, vitamin D, iron and zinc than plant foods.
However, there are health risks. Preservatives in processed meats, saturated fats and carcinogens produced during heating and cooking have been linked to non-communicable diseases (NCDs). Unprocessed red meat is also associated with NCDs if not consumed as part of a balanced diet and should be consumed in moderation.
Animal food production is generally considered to have a significant environmental impact. Livestock use vast areas of land for grazing and forage production, and the amount of land used for livestock production worldwide is 50% of the world's arable land, or 20% of the world's land area. It also uses 41% of the global agricultural water.
However, when produced at an appropriate scale and in accordance with local ecosystems and conditions, it can play an important role in a cyclical and diverse agro-ecosystem. Depending on the circumstances, it can help restore biodiversity and degraded soils, reduce greenhouse gas emissions from food production, and contribute to food security and nutrition for the world's population.
The amount and types of healthy and environmentally sustainable ASFs will depend on local conditions and health priorities. And they will change over time as populations grow, nutritional concerns arise and new technological alternatives become available and accepted. In general, those who consume large amounts of processed meat will benefit from reduced consumption, while those who consume less animal products and are at risk of malnutrition will benefit from increased consumption. Efforts to increase or reduce animal food consumption should be considered in the light of local nutritional and environmental needs and risks, in consultation with stakeholders in the areas concerned.


Beal, T., C. D. Gardner, M. Herrero, L. L. Iannotti, L. Merbold, S. Nordhagen, and A. Mottet (2023). Friend or Foe? The Role of Animal-Source Foods in Healthy and Environmentally Sustainable Diets. The Journal of Nutrition, 153(2):409-425. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.tjnut.2022.10.016

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Contributor: SHIRATORI Sakiko (Information and Public Relations Office)

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