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Africa’s Meat and Dairy Industry: A Threat to the Continent’s Future?

By Hope Ferdowsian, In Africa and Her Animals, Edited by Rainer Ebert and Anteneh Roba, Foreward by JM Coetzee, University of South Africa Press, Pretoria

Date: 2018
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The following chapter was originally printed in the volume Africa and Her Animals, and it provides an overview of the threat the meat and dairy industry poses to people, animals, and the environment across the continent of Africa.


World meat production has increased at more than ten times the population growth rate in the last three decades (FAO 2007), fuelled partially by industry marketing efforts, the policies of wealthy nations and international finance institutions. Increases in meat consumption have occurred across industrialised and developing nations, including across the African continent. These trends have appalling consequences for human health, the environment and for non-human animals (hereafter referred to as ‘animals’). The shift from plant-based to meat-based diets has contributed to rising chronic and infectious disease rates in wealthy and developing nations. Population-based and migration studies within African populations, among others, show that increases in animal fat consumption have led to increased rates of debilitating diseases such as obesity, cancer, elevated blood pressure and cholesterol levels, and diabetes, which are expensive to treat (Yusuf, Reddy, Ôunpuu & Anand 2001). Meat production and consumption also contribute to the spread of emerging and re-emerging pathogens, which threaten the health of humans and animals. The global obsession with meat has also led to climate change, massive water pollution, soil erosion, the destruction of our rainforests, and displacement of land that would otherwise be used to grow fruits, vegetables, beans and whole grains. Animal agriculture is one of the top contributors to global warming – more than all cars and airplanes combined – and climate change disproportionately affects the health of Africans, particularly those living in poverty. Industrial meat production requires large inputs of water and energy, displacing water and other resources that could potentially be used by millions of people living in Africa without access to safe drinking water or food security. 

There are tremendous opportunities within Africa to reverse this disturbing trend. Africa is at a vital turning point in history in which decisions relevant to human behaviour, industrial practices and government policies will determine the fate of Africa’s people, animals, earth and water. 

This chapter examines trends in meat and dairy production and consumption in Africa, looks at the harmful effects of rising meat and dairy consumption, and then offers potential solutions for how to reverse these troubling trends.

Scope of the problem

Globally, approximately 60 billion land animals and many more sea animals are killed each year for meat, dairy and egg production (FAO 2007). More animals are killed than used for human consumption, and meat and dairy consumption continue to increase (FAO 2009). Increases in meat consumption have occurred across both industrialised and developing nations, including across the African continent. Africa uses meat and other animal products that are produced in Africa and also products imported into Africa. Milk imports are especially prominent in North and West Africa (Livestock Data Innovation in Africa). 

The current dietary trends in Africa differ greatly from traditional dietary practices, which were more respectful and humane. Historically, most Africans rarely consumed meat and depended instead on plant-based diets. Traditionally, Africans have eaten various foods prepared as stews, soups or sauces, served over a porridge or mash made from a root vegetable such as cassava or a grain such as rice, corn, millet or teff, depending on the region. Customary North African diets are based on grains, olive oil, garlic, vegetables and a variety of bean staples such as fava beans, lentils, yellow peas and black-eyed peas. Within West Africa, grains such as rice and couscous are traditionally served, along with root crops like yams and cassava. Traditional East African staples include potatoes, rice, matoke, (mashed plantains), beans and maize meal. Historically, Southern African diets have included a greater variety of fruits and vegetables, such as bananas, pineapples, papaya, mangoes, avocadoes and tomatoes. 

Unfortunately, eating patterns are changing as Africans increasingly shift from traditional, plant-based diets to diets largely consisting of animal products, processed foods, sugars and alcohol, with fewer fruits and vegetables (Fahed, El-Hage-Sleiman, Farhat, & Nemer 2012). The contact made by European slave traders with the indigenous cultures of coastal Africa was most likely responsible for setting in motion many of the changes in diet that are seen today (Solomons 2003). These changes are of great concern for both humans and animals.

Although existing data on the numbers of animals killed for human consumption is limited, there is some information on trends in animal production and consumption. In 2009, about 1.5 billion fowl, 500 million sheep, 240 million cows and 25 million pigs were estimated to live in Africa (Livestock Data Innovation in Africa). Most of these animals were to be used for their flesh, milk or eggs. 

Production of meat, milk and eggs has slowly increased in Africa, though not as rapidly as in other areas of the world (FAO 2009). Globally, production appears to have primarily increased in terms of the numbers of animals used, rather than through factors that increase yield.1 This global pattern also reflects what has occurred in Africa. Between 1980 and 2005, global meat production increased from 136.7 million tonnes to 285.7 million tonnes per year, milk production increased from 465.5 million tonnes to 671.3 million tonnes per year, and egg production increased from 27.4 million tonnes to 67.8 million tonnes per year (FAO 2009). Over the same time period in the area categorised as ‘sub-Saharan Africa’, meat production increased from 5.5 million tonnes to 9.3 million tonnes, dairy production increased from 12.9 million tonnes to 24.3 million tonnes, and egg production increased from 0.7 million tonnes to 1.5 million tonnes (FAO 2009). The production of pig’s meat increased from about 0.5 million tonnes to 0.8 million tonnes; production of bird’s meat increased from 1 million tonnes to 2 million tonnes; production of cow’s meat increased from 2.7 million tonnes to 4 million tonnes; and production of lamb, mutton and goat meat increased from 1 million tonnes to 1.6 million tonnes (FAO 2009).

Consumption of animal products has increased quickly in developing countries over recent decades. Growth in meat, dairy and egg consumption has proportionally outpaced the growth in consumption of most other food products such as cereals, roots and tubers (FAO 2009). The increase in egg consumption has exceeded the increase in meat consumption, which has exceeded the increase in milk consumption (FAO 2009).

Africa is unique in that compared with other developing regions the continent has not experienced significant increases in per capita intake of energy derived from animal products, excluding meat from free-range land animals and fish. However, even small increases in consumption have contributed to a rise in disease burden. Between 1982 and 2008, animal product consumption in Africa increased less than 10 million tonnes, with consumption only rising from 13 kg to 15 kg per capita per year (Livestock Data Innovation in Africa). In sub-Saharan Africa, per capita consumption of meat and milk actually decreased between 1980 and 2005 (from 14.4 kg per capita per year to 13.3 kg per capita per year and 33.6 kg per capita per year to 30.1 kg per capita per year, respectively) and egg consumption remained the same (at 1.6 kg per capita per year) (FAO 2009).2 

The African meat market is expected to remain smaller than that of most other regions in the world, although corporate producers and government bodies are trying hard to increase production. By 2006 Africa comprised approximately 15.5% of the world’s population and 4.3% of the world’s meat market (Pica-Ciamarra, Barker, Morgon et al. 2013). It is anticipated that by 2050 Africa will comprise about 26.8% of the world’s population and 8.4% of the world’s meat market (Pica-Ciamarra et al. 2013). Demand for cow’s meat is expected to grow the most in West, Southern and East Africa. Demand for bird’s meat is expected to grow the most in North, Southern and West Africa. Increases in milk purchases are also anticipated. African milk markets are expected to grow the most in East and North Africa. 

Projections are that countries in Africa will increase exports of meat and dairy products to other nations in Africa and abroad. Currently, Southern Africa is the largest African exporter of cow’s and bird’s meat, and East Africa (primarily Kenya and Sudan) is the largest African exporter of pig’s, goat’s, and sheep’s meat (Livestock Data Innovation in Africa). There are also efforts to increase live animal exports of cows, sheep and other animals.

Drivers of increased production and consumption

There is a general assumption that demand for meat increases as nations become wealthier (Pinstrup-Andersen, Pandya-Lorch & Rosegrant 1999). However, the reality is that a combination of private investment, public policies and private-public partnerships have contributed significantly to the global growth in meat and dairy production and consumption. Supply-side factors, including the use of technology, intensification and subsidies, have fuelled expansion of meat and dairy production. As a result, products are cheaper and made more available to more people. Increased demand and production also result from successful marketing, funding through international finance institutions and national policies. 

Agricultural policies often augment the supply of specific commodities, including animal products. For example, American federal policy explicitly promotes demand for meat, dairy and eggs through the Agricultural Marketing Service of the Department of Agriculture. United States agricultural subsidies have created lucrative opportunities for export and horizontal integration into foreign markets, including markets in Africa. Surplus animal feed is donated to developing countries both directly by the United States Department of Agriculture and through the United States Agency for International Development (USAID). The USAID Global Livestock Collaborative Research Support Program promotes animal agricultural development in Africa and other developing regions. Industrial marketing efforts are extended through the United States Foreign Agricultural Service, which helps suppliers penetrate foreign markets, such as those in Africa. 

The World Bank is one of the largest sources of development assistance. Since about 2000, the International Finance Corporation (IFC), the private-sector arm of the World Bank, has committed more than one billion US dollars to large-scale commercial, grain-fed feedlot systems and industrial meat and milk production. The IFC is the largest source of multilateral lending to the private sector in developing countries. In 2001, the majority of World Bank support for animal agriculture concentrated on cattle farming (46%), followed by small ruminant farming (18%), poultry farming (17%), and pig farming (16%) (World Bank 2001). Projects have increasingly targeted sub-Saharan Africa (IFC Agribusiness Sector Page; IFC 2005; World Bank 2001). Currently there are several public-private projects focused on increasing meat, dairy and egg production in Africa, including through collaborations funded by the World Bank, the Food and Agricultural Organization, the International Livestock Research Institute, and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation (Livestock Data Innovation in Africa).

Technological factors that have promoted increases in production include changes in breeding techniques (eg artificial insemination), housing of animals, feeding practices (eg zero grazing, intensive confinement), transportation systems, slaughter methods and processing procedures (FAO 2009). These factors affect the welfare of animals adversely. Similarly, increasing use of vaccines and antibiotics, which contribute to global antibiotic resistance, facilitate increased meat, dairy and egg production (FAO 2009). More rapid transportation of animal products has been aided by relatively unrestricted trade policies and the use of specific technologies (eg refrigerated transport) that enable long-distance transportation of animal products (FAO 2009).

In addition to supply-side drivers of consumption, increased meat, dairy and egg consumption are influenced by economic growth, increases in per capita income, urbanisation and population growth. Although consumption generally increases with increases in gross domestic product (GDP), countries with the highest GDPs show a drop in the consumption of animal products (FAO 2009). Income, prices, religious and cultural traditions, and social, geographical and environmental factors all interact in a complex fashion to shape dietary consumption patterns.

Consequences of increased production and consumption

International policies directly and indirectly abet the expansion of animal agriculture. These polices are often predicated on assumptions that animal products are beneficial to the human diet and that animal agriculture is vital to economic development. Both of these assumptions are contradicted by a predominance of evidence to the contrary, as shown below.

Human disease

Chronic non-communicable diseases

Changes in lifestyle, including increased meat and dairy consumption, have contributed significantly to the growing burden of chronic non-communicable diseases. It is predicted that by 2020 two-thirds of the global burden of disease will be attributable to chronic non-communicable diseases that are strongly associated with diet (Chopra, Galbraith & Darnton-Hill 2002). The transition in nutrition towards animal products plays a major role in the current epidemic of non-communicable conditions (Chopra, Galbraith & Darnton-Hill 2002). The increase in the per capita supply and consumption of fat and protein from animal products has increased the risk for diseases such as obesity, diabetes mellitus, cardiovascular disease, hypertension, stroke and some types of cancer (Chopra, Galbraith & Darnton-Hill 2002; WHO 2005). Studies in sub-Saharan Africa have confirmed the relationship between changes in nutrition and the increase of chronic metabolic risk factors (Abrahams, McHiza & Steyn 2011). These diseases contribute significantly to disability, premature death, and social and economic costs in Africa and other developing regions.

Globally, chronic diseases cause approximately 60% of deaths (WHO 2005). Almost 80% of these deaths occur in developing countries (WHO 2010). Although communicable infectious diseases are still responsible for the majority of deaths in sub-Saharan Africa, the burden of chronic non-communicable diseases is increasing dramatically (de-Graft Aikins, Unwin, Agyemang, Allotey et al. 2010). It is anticipated that deaths attributable to chronic diseases will increase by over 25% in a decade and deaths from diabetes will increase by over 40% over the same time period (WHO 2005). Obesity, diabetes and cardiovascular disease are becoming an increasing burden in African nations, despite historical and remaining concerns about undernutrition. Of all the world regions, Africa is expected to experience the largest increases in mortality rates from cardiovascular disease, cancer and diabetes (de-Graft Aikins et al. 2010). Although data is available for only some parts of Africa, there are clear examples of the rising disease burden associated with changing dietary practices. For example, chronic non-communicable diseases account for 28% of deaths in Mozambique, of which 12% are attributable to cardiovascular disease (Silva-Matos & Beran 2012).

Cardiovascular risk factors such as hypertension, diabetes and dyslipidaemia, a condition marked by abnormal concentrations of lipids such as cholesterol or fat in the blood, were once rare in Africa. The prevalence of these diseases now varies considerably across Africa. These diseases are usually more common in urban or semi-urban areas, compared with rural areas, which have been slower to transition to meat-based diets. 

The prevalence of hypertension varies across and within regions in Africa. The percentage of adults affected by hypertension ranges anywhere from below 5% to more than one-third of the population (BeLue, Okoror, Iwelunmor et al. 2009). Prospective studies taking into account migration from rural to urban areas predict a rising prevalence of hypertension, as exemplified in a Kenyan study (BeLue et al. 2009; Poulter, Khaw, Hopwood & Mugambi 1985). Moving from a rural to urban setting increases the risk of hypertension within a short period of time. 

Similar trends have been observed for diabetes. Diabetes was once regarded as a rare disease in Africa (BeLue et al. 2009; Mbanya & Ramlaya 2006). Over the past 25 years, the prevalence of diabetes has increased considerably. As with hypertension, the prevalence of diabetes varies across countries. Nations such as Malawi and Ethiopia have diabetes rates below 2%, whereas Ghana, Sudan, Cameroon and South Africa have prevalence rates over 3% (Gill, Mbanya, Ramaiya & Tesfaye 2009). The prevalence of diabetes is higher in urban areas than in rural areas (BeLue et al. 2009). Differences in diabetes prevalence among countries and between rural and urban areas could be explained by dietary differences, in addition to other factors.

The prevalence of lipid disorders also varies across regions in Africa. In a study of healthy workers in Nigeria, more than half of the population had elevated low density lipoprotein (LDL)-cholesterol and low high density lipoprotein (HDL)-cholesterol, increasing the risk for heart disease (BeLue et al. 2009). Population-based studies in Tanzania and Gambia have shown elevated total serum cholesterol levels in a quarter of the population above the age of 35 years (BeLue et al. 2009; Njelekela, Mphembeni, Muhihi et al. 2009). Elevated cholesterol was more prevalent in urban than in rural areas in the Gambian study (BeLue et al 2009). Since only humans and animals produce cholesterol, it is reasonable to conclude that differences in cholesterol levels can at least be partially explained by a shift from a largely plant-based diet to a meat-based diet, which often accompanies the shift from a rural to an urban lifestyle. Studies of Tunisian migrants to France compared to people remaining in Tunisia have shown that saturated fat intake, such as that from animal products, contributes to higher rates of hyperlipidaemia (Méjean, Traissac, Eymard-Duvernay et al. 2007).

Unfortunately, cancer rates are also rising in some areas of Africa, contributing to significant morbidity and mortality across the continent. For example, rates of breast and prostate cancer have created a significant drain on health and financial resources in Mozambique (Silva-Matos & Beran 2012), and these diseases are significantly impacted by diet. Low-fat, plant-based diets protect against hormonally mediated cancers such as breast and prostate cancer, whereas animal products can fuel them. In addition, breast cancer has been linked with obesity, and obesity rates are also rising, particularly in urban areas in populations with increased incomes (Sodijinou, Agueh, Fayomi & Delisle 2008).

Sadly, non-communicable diseases are also affecting children. In a Mozambique study, non-communicable diseases represented more than 10% of childhood deaths (Sacarlal, Nhacolo, Sigauque, Nhalungo et al. 2009; Silva-Matos & Beran 2012).

Few African nations have plans or policies to address the growing epidemic of chronic diseases (de-Graft Aikins, et al 2010). The increasing prevalence of chronic diseases and corresponding disease complications increase competition for scarce medical resources. A limited (though growing) number of healthcare workers have expertise in chronic disease diagnosis and management. Many hospitals and clinics lack basic diagnostic and treatment services to address chronic diseases. The majority of people living in Africa do not have access to referral hospitals to address complications of chronic diseases, such as myocardial infarction (heart attacks), end stage renal disease, blindness and amputations. All of these factors synergistically and further weaken existing health systems.

Infectious diseases

African nations already face a significant burden of infectious diseases, and meat and dairy production and consumption contribute to the risk of infectious disease. According to the World Health Organization, millions of people die each year from foodborne microbial diseases, primarily because of the increase in the consumption of animal products and intensive methods of production (Adams & Motarjemi 1999; Delgado, Narrod & Tiongco 2003; WHO 1997). In recent decades, more than 30 new human diseases have surfaced globally, most of which have been animal-borne pathogens (Woolhouse 2002). The intensification of production methods has interfered with public health attempts to mitigate pathogen transmission. Confinement, crowding and the loss of genetic diversity within species all provide conditions optimal for the resistant mutation and spread of pathogenic micro-organisms (Delgado, Narrod & Tiongco 2003). The non-therapeutic use of antibiotics results in microbial resistance, reducing the treatment effects of antibiotics used to treat human diseases. Even in wealthy nations such as the United States, enforcement of existing regulations to curb pathogen transmission has been poor (Greger 2006). Considering the paucity of preventive measures in many areas of Africa, it can be expected that the association between meat and dairy production and consumption and infectious diseases seen in wealthier countries will also be seen in most African nations.

Rural, mixed farming systems have transitioned to intensive, largely unregulated production in several African nations (Worldwatch Institute 2007). Globally, such modifications in agricultural practices are likely to have been responsible for diseases such as severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS), haemolytic uremic syndrome (associated with Escherichia coli O157:H7), cholera, foot-and-mouth disease, Rift Valley fever and bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE) (Morse 2004; Woolhouse 2002). The incidence of salmonellosis and cholera has increased on several continents, including in Africa, largely because of poultry, egg and fish consumption (Galanis et al. 2006; Griffith, Kelly-Hope & Miller 2006). Current zoonotic threats specific to Africa include rabies, Rift Valley fever, Crimean-Congo haemorrhagic fever, anthrax, Brucellosis, salmonellosis, campylobacteriosis, Escherichia coli, chlamydiosis, clostridial infections, parasitic disease, and rickettsial and fungal diseases (Magwedere, Hemberger, Hoffman et al. 2012). For example, Rift Valley fever is widespread in the Southern African region and in Kenya. In Niger, cows slaughtered at an abattoir were highly infected with bovine tuberculosis, increasing the risk for tuberculosis in humans and other animals (Boukary, Thys, Abatih et al. 2011). These types of diseases are very harmful to humans, captive animals and free-ranging animals. Better treatment of animals would reduce the spread of these diseases.

Economic impact

Acute and chronic illnesses associated with animal agriculture contribute to disability and work impairment, which weaken production and destabilise fragile work economies. This phenomenon is critical for individuals, family units and community infrastructure. In addition, expanding animal use for meat and dairy production could worsen social and economic opportunities for women, since women have little decision-making power in such use of animals, and increasing responsibility for animal care takes women away from addressing other responsibilities, including child care. 

By 2020, non-communicable diseases, largely associated with shifts in dietary practices, are expected to account for 57% of all disability in developing countries (Mathers & Loncar 2006). Diabetes, heart disease and stroke will contribute dramatically to lost national income, including in Africa (IDF 2006). Direct health care costs attributable to meat consumption in the United States were estimated to be upwards of US$ 50 billion in 1992 (Barnard, Nicholson & Howard 1995). Africa cannot afford comparable costs.

Effectively addressing malnutrition

The World Health Organization estimates that approximately 3.7 billion people suffer from malnutrition, including macronutrient and micronutrient deficiencies (WHO 2003). Micronutrient deficiencies, such as iron, iodine, vitamin A and folate insufficiencies, affect approximately one third of the world’s population, including those living in many African nations (Murray & Lopez 1996). Increased animal product consumption could exacerbate micronutrient deficiencies, since meat-heavy diets can result in inadequate intake of plant-derived nutrients, including fibre, vitamin C and folate, among other micronutrients (Narayan, Zhang, Kanaya et al. 2006).

Malnutrition, including undernutrition, is most effectively addressed with plant-based diets that are nutrient rich. A report commissioned by the World Bank concluded that plant sources of protein and fat, such as soy products, nuts and vegetable oils, are likely to provide greater health benefits than animal products (Hu & Willett 1998). Macronutrients, including carbohydrates, protein and fat, are available through diverse plant-based diets, which have sustained indigenous societies around the world for centuries. Plant-based dietary diversification and food fortification are effective approaches for meeting population-based micronutrient requirements. According to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, consuming foods such as pulses, legumes, vegetables and fruit is the preferred way of ensuring optimal nutrition (Suhrcke, Nugent, Stuckler & Rocco 2006). 

A 2004 report released by UNICEF proposed the following solutions for addressing vitamin and mineral deficiencies (UNICEF 2004):

  • Fortification of food staples or condiments with essential vitamins and minerals, including cost-effective options such as iodised or iron-fortified salt and wheat flour fortified with folic acid and iron
  • Supplementation in the form of low-cost capsules, tablets and syrups for vulnerable groups such as children and women of childbearing age 
  • Education on the need for supplements and the types of foods that increase vitamin and mineral intake and absorption, and
  • Efforts to control diseases such as malaria, diarrhoea and parasitic infections.

These four interventions can be achieved best with plant-based agriculture that supports plant-based diets. Plant-based agriculture is more resource-efficient than meat production (Pimentel 2004). Animal agriculture also makes it more difficult to ensure protection of the water supply, sanitation and hygiene.

Climate change, environmental degradation, famine and drought

It is estimated that approximately 50% of greenhouse gas production results from meat and dairy production, suggesting that meat and dairy production is the principal contributor to climate change (Goodland & Anhang 2009). Climate change disproportionately affects individuals who are poor, particularly people living on the African continent (Patz & Kovatz 2002). Effects like increases in temperatures and extremes in precipitation (eg floods and droughts) have particular significance for individuals living in arid, subtropical or tropical climates with few resources. 

Populations already at risk for mosquito-transmitted diseases such as malaria face further risks of disease transmission associated with ambient changes. Low-lying coastal settlements, such as in Egypt, are at greater risk of flooding, and individuals living in water-stressed areas, such as in Southern Africa, are at greater risk of water shortages (Patz & Kovatz 2002). Crop yields are adversely impacted by climate change, thereby increasing shortages of food in nations already facing famine. Climate change negatively impacts all animals living on the continent of Africa, including free-ranging animals.

The inefficiencies associated with meat production have contributed considerably to the world food crisis, particularly by usurping soil and water availability for essential crop production. Immediate and observed environmental effects associated with animal agriculture include reduced arable land and fossil fuel availability, air and water pollution, and soil erosion. Meat and dairy production accounts for about 60% of all agricultural land use and uses 30% of the planet’s land surface area (FAO 2006) – land that could otherwise be used for more efficient and healthful fruit, vegetable, bean and whole grain production. Grazing systems cover large areas of land but intensive animal agriculture systems are accompanied by other problems, including disease transmission associated with crowding of animals, excessive water use and pollution.

The diversion of water resources to inefficient agriculture production also has significant implications for millions of people without access to safe drinking water. Animal agriculture requires more water for production than plant production. For example, producing one kilogram of beef requires 100 000 litres of water, whereas one kilogram of soybean requires only 2 000 litres of water (Pimentel 2004). Efforts to intensify production create unquantifiable amounts of waste each year, resulting in microbial and chemical contamination of fresh water.

Toward a better future

Africa is at a crossroads. Although projections suggest that meat and dairy production and consumption across the African continent will increase, these trends can still be avoided or reversed. Reversal of impending trends will require due diligence on the parts of leaders and the public, careful assessment and critique of imperialist efforts to influence African policies and practices, and a long-term rather than a simple short-term view of Africa’s future. A new model of development is essential, particularly one in which corporate interests do not trump the interests of Africa’s people, animals and the environment. Potential interventions to reduce supply and demand for animal products include educational campaigns, marketing regulations, incentives for healthier food production and consumption, programmes to increase local access, and systematic adjustment of food prices. The most effective strategies address a combination of policy changes, population-based interventions and individual behaviours.

An approach involving primary prevention is the most cost-effective, affordable and sustainable course of action to cope with the growing epidemic of chronic diseases, the threat of additional infectious disease transmission and environmental degradation associated with expanding meat and dairy markets. Policies that promote plant-based crop production and discourage meat and dairy production are critical. A combination of legislative and regulatory approaches could be helpful, with an eye toward increased transparency, democratic process and accountability. Successful efforts will undeniably rely on increasing the health and nutrition literacy of policy-makers, healthcare providers, public health professionals, community health workers and the public. Clear messages about the adverse effects of expanding meat and dairy production and consumption need to be communicated to policy-makers and consumers. Engaging farmers and the food industry to produce more plant-based foods for human consumption is fundamental to any efforts to curb meat and dairy production. 

A successful approach that will influence agricultural policy requires multi-disciplinary co-operation between industry, government and international development agencies. More broadly, there is a critical need for development institutions to align agricultural investment strategies with nutrition and environmental strategies. Investors must be made accountable to Africa’s citizens. Corporate practices, when viewed as a social determinant of health, can be integral to the creation of viable solutions (Galea & Freudenburg 2008). If incentives for food production and marketing are considered, these incentives should remain focused on healthy products such as fruit, vegetables, beans and whole grains for human consumption. Financial support for animal feed reduces the area of land available for production of healthier foods. In contrast, domestic and international development support that focuses on plant-based nutrition and fortification of staple foods provides cost-efficient and sustainable ways to address malnutrition, including macronutrient deficiencies. In Poland, for example, the 1991 withdrawal of large consumer subsidies, especially for animal products, led to the substitution of unsaturated for saturated fats and an increased consumption of fresh fruit and vegetables (Zatonski, McMichael & Powles 1991). Subsequently, Poland experienced a drop in the prevalence of cardiovascular disease and in associated mortality (Zatonski, McMichael & Powles 1991). Population-based studies have shown that people who eat low-fat, plant-based diets are less likely to be overweight or obese, or to have conditions such as heart disease or diabetes (Snowdon & Phillips 1985; Berkow & Barnard 2006). Numerous clinical studies have shown that plant-based diets reduce and reverse the risk for obesity, diabetes, ischemic heart disease and cancer (Barnard, Cohen, Jenkins et al. 2006; Ornish, Scherwitz, Billings et al. 1998; WCRI/AICR 2007).

Just as Africa represents the birth of human civilization, it can be the home for a rebirth and a source of revolution for human society and for animals. Africa has a unique opportunity to set a novel example of development and avoid following the rest of the world deeper into the abyss of animal abuse, human disease and environmental degradation.


The author would like to thank Kyle Ash, LLM, for his contributions to earlier materials he and the author drafted together, which were used to inform portions of this chapter.


  1. The number of animals that are slaughtered or used for dairy and egg production, and output per animal, are used to quantify production.
  2. Per capita estimates are sometimes misleading, since people living in urban areas with higher incomes are more likely to consume meat than people living in rural areas.


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