Meat: the good, the bad and the complicated

By Birgit Boogard, former RSO-staff member, now Post-doctoral fellow at the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI) currently working on the imGoats project that has the objective to:  ‘increase incomes and food security in a sustainable manner by enhancing pro-poor small ruminant value chains in India and Mozambique’. (

Meat: the good, the bad and the complcicated (IFPRI Infographic)

Meat: the good, the bad and the complcicated (IFPRI Infographic)

The International Food Policy Institute recently published an interesting info-graphic on meat production and consumption in the world entitled ‘Meat: the good, the bad and the complicated . The debate about meat production and consumption is a very interesting one in many ways. I don’t need to remind us of the recent discussion at Wageningen UR on ‘the good’ of intensified animal production ‘to feed the world’. In response to such arguments, ‘the bad’ are brought into the debate (see for example earlier blog by Petra), which are subsequently answered by the animal production sector with defensive responses.

The IFPRI infographic brings an interesting perspective into the debate; the complicated. Because that is what it is; complicated. Needless to say that meat production and consumption in the world are complicated in the sense they consist of multiple meat production systems – ranging for example from smallholder goat keepers in Africa to large-scale intensive beef ‘factories’ in the US – as well as very different consumers groups – located in different parts of the world, with different food cultures, preferences and purchasing power. As such, production as well as consumption systems have locally defined ‘goods’ and ‘bads’. Although the debate about ‘goods’ and ‘bads’ can be relevant and useful, there is a fundamental underlying question around ‘the complicated’:

How are different meat production and consumption systems in the world related to each other and affecting food security of the world’s population?

This is a gigantic question, which entails many sub questions and can be approached from many different scientific perspectives (economic, sociological, production-oriented, etc.). To make it more concrete, there is one sub question that I find particularly interesting: Can food security (in the South) be improved if people (in the North) eat less meat? This issue was discussed by John McDermott (former Deputy Director General of Research of International Livestock Research Institute) with Vicki Hird (Senior Food Campaigner at Friends of the Earth) about two years ago (see full debate @

Mozambican women cooking (Birgit Boogaard, ILRI)

The debate around ‘feeding the world’ is a sensitive and sometimes emotional one, because nobody is in favour of hunger – it is something to fight for (or against). And so I (try to) do. Being a post doc at ILRI on the imGoats project, I currently live in an area in Mozambique where people face food insecurity and where I get to work with these people on a frequent basis. I feel connected to them and I get personally involved. Subsequently, I constantly question myself how these people could live in a more food secure situation and how I (or actually ‘we’ – including friends, family and colleagues in Europe, ILRI and beyond) can contribute to this situation. I don’t know the answer(s), but they are worth exploring, because such answers (and questions) place the debate around ‘feeding the world’ in a different perspective: not only about what is good or bad in a specific situation, but most of all why we (continue to) produce and consume food the way we do, how those production and consumption systems affect others in the world and what could be done differently.

1 thought on “Meat: the good, the bad and the complicated

  1. Those interested in the ‘complicated’ part of global livestock production equations—on the ‘goods’ and ‘bads’ livestock generate— may want to visit the following pinboard collections on the Pinterest website:

    Livestock Goods and Bads:

    Livestock Futures:

    Global Livestock Agenda:

    Complicated, indeed!

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