Meat in a sustainable food system
Meat has been an important component of the human diet for centuries as a rich source of essential nutrients required for development, growth and maintenance. In addition to its nutritional value, meat production and processing provide employment and income generation in both commercial and informal farming sectors. However, in recent times, the sustainability of meat production, as well as the quality and safety of meat products has come under intense scrutiny as a result of the negative implications of livestock farming and meat consumption on the environment and human health, respectively. These concerns have become increasingly important to consumers and significantly influence consumption trends and the viability of the meat industry. Meat quality, safety and nutritional composition are influenced by the wide range of conditions to which meat-producing animals are exposed from ‘farm to fork’. Hence, a complete understanding of meat and factors affecting it at every stage of the production chain is beneficial for the control and enhancement of meat quality. Additionally, adopting a systems approach is key to minimizing the negative implications of the meat industry on the environment and health. Current farming conditions are characterized by increasingly variable weather patterns and a diminishing natural resource base. As such, determining environmentally friendly, climate resilient and sustainable production systems is crucial. Pre- to post-slaughter processes tailored to maximize carcass yields, minimize losses and prevent health risks are essential. Furthermore, there is a growing need among consumers for transparency and detailed information on meat production and composition. Research that links the dynamics involved in all stages of meat production is necessary to sustain the positive role of meat in the human diet and to maximize the contribution of meat towards the alleviation of food insecurity, while easing the impact on the environment.
Keywords: Consumer perceptions, diet and nutrition, environmental health, food security, human health, livestock production