DES MOINES, Iowa — According to experts at the Fourth Annual Iowa Hunger Summit held in conjunction with the World Food Prize Borlaug Dialogue on Oct. 12, food derived from animals is an important source of protein, energy, calcium and micronutrients — all of which can improve people’s health, their economic status and the environment.

Discussing the role of livestock in reducing food insecurity during a presentation to the Summit’s more than 500 attendees were Terry Wollen, veterinarian and interim vice president of advocacy for Heifer International, and Kevin Watkins, Ph.D. and co-chair of the Elanco Hunger Team and Hunger Board. Both shared information about a multi-year collaboration between their two organizations, and emphasized the need to consider four dimensions when evaluating food alternatives in the fight against world hunger.

“Thoughtfully evaluating how foods and food systems affect all four dimensions — human nutrition, people’s health, their economic status and the environment — is critical as we take on the UN Food and Agriculture Organization’s [FAO’s] challenge of producing 100% more food by 2050,” Watkins said. “The good news is both research and real-world experience show that animal-source foods deliver on all four of these dimensions.

“Even just a moderate increase in the consumption of animal-source foods provides critical nutritional benefits,” Watkins said. “This is one of the best ways to stop the cycle of undernourishment that leads to poor health and disease — a syndrome called the poverty micronutrient malnutrition [PMM] trap.”

The PMM trap starts with hunger. This leads to nutrient deficiencies and impaired development, which alter metabolism and can compromise people’s immune status, making them more susceptible to disease. When people become sick, their illnesses often are more severe and last longer, leading to a reduced appetite and poorer absorption of nutrients. This creates even more hunger and malnutrition.

“Through our work at Heifer International, we’ve found that providing living gifts of livestock along with training in sound agricultural practices can break this cycle of hunger and poor health,” Wollen said. “Bringing these inputs to developing countries has proven to be an excellent investment that truly helps communities improve their nutrition and health status.”

Both Wollen and Watkins agree that a collaboration between their two organizations is making a similar difference for 2,100 families in Lampung, Indonesia.

“Donations from Elanco employees and funds from the Eli Lilly and Company Foundation have provided cattle, poultry, ducks, seeds, trees and latrines to people who live with a 24% poverty rate and just 100 veterinarians to serve 1.1 million farming families,” Watkins said. “Just as important is the personal touch from our veterinarians and other specialists who have worked side-by-side with the people of Lampung to transfer knowledge of animal husbandry, composting, biogas production and forest conservation.”

Because of the nutrition and other benefits they provide, animal-source foods are at the heart of Heifer International projects like this.

“Today, through integrated food-diversification initiatives, millions of people who once were hungry now are nourished by milk, meat, eggs and fresh vegetables,” Wollen said. “Even though there has been a resurgence of hunger and poverty, we know that working together using the Heifer International model of integration will move us closer to eradicating hunger — one community at a time.”