By Veronique Droulez, IMS human nutrition and health committee
The second international conference on nutrition which will be held in 2014 is an initiative of the United Nations food and agriculture organisation (FAO) and the World Health Organisation (WHO). It forms part of several activities which will inform global food and nutrition policy.
The International Meat Secretariat (IMS) was invited to participate in the technical preparatory meeting which took place in Rome in November 2013. The invitation was extended to only six other members from the private sector along with representatives from civil society i.e. non-government organisations. Delegates included government representatives from the agriculture and health sector of member countries. The meeting provided a unique opportunity to understand key issues and experts that will influence global food policy and regulations in the future. These insights have helped to inform the type of research and communications required to ensure red meat continues to be recommended and enjoyed as part of a healthy, balanced diet.
Key policy issues
Sustainability and food security
Sustainable production and consumption are emerging as key concerns in food and nutrition policy, particularly in relation to its impact on food and nutrition security. With obesity levels rapidly increasing across the globe, the need to consider the nutritional quality of the food supply as part of food security and not just the amount and cost of food, is being recommended.
Three forms of malnutrition
An integrated global nutrition strategy focused on maternal and child nutrition which addresses under-nutrition, micronutrient deficiencies and obesity is being proposed, since these are starting to co-exist in developing countries.
The importance of the first 1 000 days for promoting optimal nutrition – the critical period from conception to a child’s first birthday – was emphasised due to the impact this has on the health of the child throughout its life. The impact of micronutrient deficiencies, in particular iron and zinc deficiencies in infants and even during pregnancy, combined with an obesity can have adverse consequences on normal growth and development and increase risk of chronic diseases, such as diabetes, in later years.
Since red meat is an excellent source of iron and zinc, it can play an important role as part of a healthy, balanced diet, in preventing these conditions, particularly since there have been some reports of adverse effects from vitamin and mineral supplements.
* Targeting local and global food supplies
Complementary strategies which ensure access to a wide range of nutrient-rich foods at both a local and global level are being considered. This means supporting adoption of sustainable production practices by smallholder farmers along with community nutrition education in developing countries to generate income and improve access to nutritious foods at a local level. Labelling, nutrition education and fiscal policy (i.e. taxes) are being recommended at a global level to drive production of healthier foods, particularly processed foods. Importantly, the need to adapt strategies to suit local conditions was recognised.
Emphasis on plant-based diets
Whilst the type of dietary recommendations was not the main focus of the discussion, there was a strong emphasis on plant-based dietary solutions. Increased meat consumption associated with adoption of less healthy diets and an increase in obesity and chronic diseases was noted, along with concerns around its environmental impact.
Alignment across sectors
The technical preparatory meeting concluded that policy alignment and adoption of a common vision across sectors on food and nutrition security is required, particularly between nutrition and agriculture. This will be the main focus of activities by organisers in the lead up to ICN2 in 2014.
Despite sensitivities around the involvement of the private sector, the need for an effective multi-stakeholder strategy which includes the private sector was recognised.
Implications for the meat industry
Communicate via global agenda for sustainable livestock
As a multi-stakeholder platform, the global agenda for sustainable livestock provides a credible platform for informing ICN2 and an opportunity to be the first industry to demonstrate alignment between nutrition and agricultural activities.
Show contribution to food and nutrition security
Since the focus is around how food and nutrition security can be achieved, in particular, how to bridge the gap between nutrition and agriculture, a compelling case is required which demonstrates how the red meat industry contributes to food and nutrition security and at the same time, provides a competitive environment to increase market penetration. The IMS human nutrition and health committee will build evidence around sustainable consumption and consider ways in which to link sustainable consumption with sustainable production practices recommended by the global agenda for sustainable Livestock.
Programme of research on balanced meals
A programme of research, consultation and communication centred on the balanced meal is being developed. More specifically, the research will consider what constitutes a balanced meal for different life stages. It will also consider how promoting consumption of a balanced red meat meal can contribute to both sustainable consumption and production.
Our hypothesis is that advice on healthy meal preparation, including advice on the right balance of nutrient-rich foods, including red meat, and waste reduction strategies will support the adoption of sustainable consumption and consequently, drive demand for the right balance and amounts of a diversity of foods. This will incentivise farmers to adopt recommendations for improving production efficiencies in order to meet this demand, thereby generating incomes and access to nutritious food.
Why balanced meals?
Emerging evidence suggests the balance of nutrients in the diet, in particular, the dilution of protein energy by carbohydrate and fat energy, may explain the rise in obesity. Essentially, this imbalance distorts appetite regulation contributing to overconsumption. This evidence highlights the importance of considering the balance of foods and nutrients in the diet and their interactions, rather than focusing on any one food or nutrient.
This approach supports the conclusions of a recent meta-analysis on meat and colorectal cancer which suggests unbalanced diets and lifestyles, rather than red meat intake per se, explain reports of a positive association in some studies. It is also consistent with dietary strategies recommended to optimise the bioavailability of iron and zinc by adding meat to plant-based meals.
Behaviourally, consumer insights in Australia support a “balanced meal” approach which provides specific advice on how to prepare a healthy meal. The notion of “balance” is appealing to consumers, many of whom are leading busy lifestyles and find dietary recommendations difficult to follow.
The concept supports adoption of dietary guidelines and is therefore likely to be supported by health authorities, providing a supportive environment for industry to respond to demand for guidance on meal preparation and suitable products.
It therefore provides a common vision for driving constructive collaboration between key stakeholders.
The IMS human nutrition and health committee is working with Meat & Livestock Australia to investigate the development of a conceptual framework with researchers at the University of Sydney in Australia, who have developed a modelling technique for dealing with nutritional complexity. Once established, its validity will be confirmed via consultation with key influencers, accessing international experts via Committee members.
A communication strategy will be developed, including the potential for a presentation at ICN2.
This article was first published in the IMS Newsletter No 537