Anti-livestock rhetoric in wealthy west impacts poor nations

By Susan MacMillan

July 27, 2018

Fifteen or so people (directors, scientists, donor agents and advocacy and communications experts) are meeting in Nairobi this week to review a two-year project funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and led by the International Livestock Research Institute to advance Global Livestock Advocacy for Development (GLAD).

One of the perennial issues we face is that those in developed nations advocating for “less livestock” have voices that can drown out the different concerns of those in developing nations who want and need “more and better livestock.”

Here’s what some of us working in “livestock for development”— that is, towards better lives through livestock — would like those to understand who are arguing for the whole world to go vegetarian — to end all consumption of milk, meat and eggs — or even, as recently advocated by a leading environmental journalist at The Guardian, to end all forms of animal husbandry entirely.

We’d like these individuals and groups to be aware that the repeated blanket anti-livestock pronouncements now being made in the major media of the Global North—published generally with well-meaning intentions of bettering human diets and health, or animal welfare or the environment — are taking on a life of their own.

The accelerating anti-livestock rhetoric is now exerting undue influence on global livestock investments and policies, many of which continue to pay little heed to, or even understanding of, the economic, food, nutrition, health and other exigencies of the Global South.

This anti-livestock rhetoric, though typically intended for the constituencies of the world’s wealthier countries, which have ready access to many options for healthy diets, rarely makes that distinction clear, and thus can easily end up hurting members of the world’s poorest communities in some of the world’s poorest nations, for whom livestock remain central to livelihoods —and to life itself.

To paraphrase Oscar Wilde, some Western media pundits appear to know the (environmental) price of everything but nothing of the (real) value farm animals bring to millions of impoverished people.

What would help is if all those with particularly influential voices were to become more “global-aware” — that is, more disciplined about making explicit what communities they are addressing with their impassioned arguments, and what communities might be disserved, and possibly harmed, by their arguments.

What would help is if all those working for developing-country constituencies take actions to wrest back control of the livestock narrative — and make it more compelling — as it relates to low- and middle-income countries.

What would help is developing an appetite for ambiguity — for attending to alternative opinions, and to the (unspoken) perspectives and hopes and fears that give rise to them.

What would help is staying mindful of scientific consensus — and being willing to change our minds when presented with new evidence from reputable scientific sources.

What would help is understanding that we’re all interconnected — and that we (really do) have all the resources needed to support both the planet and all its peoples. If we can agree, for example, that under-consumption of calories and nutrients — with its knock-on and lifelong harms to human health, productivity and well-being — is a problem as deserving of our global and national attention as over-consumption of food and its knock-on health and other impacts, then we at least have a good start for inclusive policy dialogues about nutrition.

The more we are able to be inclusive in our problem statements, the greater are our chances to come up with practical as well as equitable and enduring solutions.

End of this week’s rant. But if interested, you’ll find more opinions (of the I-hope-not-smug variety) here:  ILRI Opinions Pinterest board.

Susan MacMillan leads the public awareness work at ILRI.