The livestock sector creates livelihoods for an estimated one billion people world-wide. Not only is the consumption of milk, meat and eggs an important source of protein and micronutrients and hence a crucial pillar of food security for the rural poor in particular. For many people, the sale of animal products is the most important, if not the only, source of income. In addition, the animals are a significant multifunctional asset. They provide dung, raising soil fertility, they are simultaneously beasts of burden and tractors, and they represent “hoofed insurance”, not to mention the social prestige that they endow their owners with in several societies. In spite of its important role, animal production has been an unfavourable topic in the development debate – mainly because of its environmental impact. After all, animals account for two thirds of all climate gas emissions from agriculture; water pollution and loss of biodiversity are attributed to animal husbandry as are the transmission of animal-borne diseases to humans and unhealthy food, not to mention competition with other areas of food production. With this edition of Rural 21, we want to take a look at the current state of debate.