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Meat demand is rising, given a growing world population and larger middle-income subpopulations. However, meat production faces challenges such as expensive inputs and animal and human health issues.

This article discusses the importance of minimising hazards and threats, and argues for sustainable production systems based on aspects such as smarter food marketing and improved disease intelligence.

As the world population reaches the seven billion mark and subpopulations in emerging market economies start to join the ranks of middle-income households, livestock production systems will be pressed to supply the demand for meat that arises from the adoption of the diverse and rich nutritional diets enjoyed in developed countries.

The challenges of this increased demand for animal protein are increasingly felt, and the situation is likely to become more difficult given that inputs for livestock production such as energy, grains, and roughages at inexpensive prices are no longer available, and also because adjustments to meat production lie in the horizon in relation to greenhouse gases emissions and associated climatic change.

Further challenges relate to concerns with animal and human health, as the numbers and concentration of animals increase. It is often suggested that modern industrial livestock production systems that prop up in response to market incentives potentially allow for the rapid selection and amplification of pathogens, some of which have threatened global public health and proved costly to regional trade-based economic growth and livestock-dependent livelihoods (e.g. highly pathogenic avian influenza H5N1 and pandemic H1N1 influenza). This is followed by increasing reservations expressed by environmental and civic action groups about the decoupling of production from the natural resource base which may give rise to substantial externalities. Finally, given that most of the growth in meat demand will occur in nations experiencing a rapid transition from poverty to prosperity, and given that the supply response is expected to occur predominantly in those regions, there is likelihood of ensuing social inequities due to the marginalisation of smallholder livestock farmers by the new sophisticated urban markets.

Rethinking has started
In view of the multidimensionality of the challenges faced, the world livestock sector is adapting to changing contexts by addressing some of the core limitations that are withholding its efficacious participation in global markets.

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