8.5 Motivations for disagreements: three perspectives on the food, nutrition and sustainability issue

There is general agreement that livestock are central to many problems about food, nutrition and sustainability. But different opinions exist as to how best to solve these problems.

This section considers why people have different opinions and the three main perspectives that may underpin these opinions.

8.5.1 Why do we have different opinions?

Why do we have different opinions?

We all want a sustainable health-enhancing food system, and there is a general agreement that livestock has a central role.


  • We have different views on:

– How the world works.

– What is ‘inevitable’ and what is ‘possible’ – i.e. how far the status quo can be challenged.

  • There are different visions of what a sustainable healthy food system looks like.
  • We differ in the extent to which diverse issues are viewed holistically and seen as requiring integrated solutions, or as separate concerns requiring targeted issue-specific interventions.
  • There are three broad perspectives on the food-nutrition-sustainability problem, which are outlined in this sections (see Chapter 4 for more on these approaches in the context of GHG mitigation).

8.5.2 Efficiency perspective

Perspective 1: The Efficiency Perspective

  • Overall goal according to this perspective: “More food for less negative impact”.
  • Focus: Production – producers.
  • Geographical perspective: Macro – global markets.
  • Key stakeholders: Policy makers, agricultural producers and farming unions, food industry.
  • How dominant is this view? This perspective dominates food security & mitigation discourse.
  • Underlying moral values of this perspective:

– Decoupling (of consumption from impact) is possible – thanks to human ingenuity: ‘green growth’.

– Better material quality of life for all.

– Freedom = freedom to consume.

– Innovation with informed choice.

How does the efficiency perspective approach food security and nutrition challenges?

  • Food security goal: “More food to meet demand”:

– More grains, more livestock.

– Hunger is viewed as a supply-side problem to be addressed by increased output.

– Demand trajectories are viewed as unchangeable.

  • Nutrition goal: make ‘inevitable’ consumption trends more healthy:

– Breed leaner animals.

– Reformulate products: less fat, fewer calories, enhanced nutrients (probiotics, added vitamins etc.).

– Better labelling and information (informed consumer choice).

– Biofortification and fortification.

Environmental goals, food security and nutrition are often addressed as separate issues within this efficiency perspective.

8.5.3 Demand restraint perspective

Perspective 2: Demand restraint perspective

  • Overall goal according to this perspective: Combat excessive consumption of high impact foods
  • Focus: Consumption – consumers.
  • Geographical perspective: Developed / rich world origins and focus.
  • How dominant is this view? Widespread among environmental and animal welfare organisations, vegetarian and vegan groups, animal rights activists.
  • Underlying moral values:

– Livestock farming is the ‘source of all evil’ (lumps issues, i.e. livestock is a nexus of health, ethical (e.g. animal welfare) and environmental concerns.

– “Limits to growth”.

– ‘Greed’ narrative: overtly moralistic – excessive consumption is cause of our crisis.

– Freedom = freedom from consumption – ‘live better by consuming less’.

– production-side measures are an (immoral?) ‘techno-fix’.

– Regulation needed to change context of consumption.

How does the demand restraint perspective approach food security and nutrition challenges?

  • Food security:

– Contraction and convergence is the way forward: “there is enough food to feed everyone” (highlights problems of obesity – “more fat people than thin people”).

– Emphasises ‘wastefulness’ of meat consumption as regards feed conversion and land use.


– Emphasises negative qualities of animal products (e.g. saturated fat, calories) (fat rich focus).

– Underplays positives: iron, calcium, B vitamins, zinc, protein.

8.5.4 System transformation perspective

Perspective 3: Food system transformation perspective

  • Overall goal according to this perspective: need to tackle not production, not consumption but inequitable power structures.
  • Focus: Interaction among food system actors.
  • Geographical perspective: developing countries plus ‘alternative food movements’ in developed country – generally rural.
  • Stakeholders: wide spectrum (alternative food movement through to elements of FAO). Strong representation from international development organisations and civil society.
  • How dominant is this perspective? Vocal, but not yet changing practice.
  • Underlying moral values:

– Equity & justice.

– “Small is beautiful” (Agrarian? Romantic?).

– Not “green growth” or “limits to growth” but “capacity building”.

– Not freedom to consume or freedom from consumption but freedom to self determine.

How does the system transformation perspective approach food security and nutrition challenges?

  • Food security = livelihoods, institutions, markets, empowerment.

– Emphasises the importance of thinking about not just supply but access (including access to means of production), utilisation and stability (see Chapter 7).

– Can you afford it? What kind of food is it? What are the conditions within which you are consuming? Do you have reliable access?

  • Nutrition: Not ‘more’ food plus post-harvest nutritional enhancement; not ‘less meat’ either – but dietary diversity for micronutrient adequacy (meat, veg, legumes, local foods…) and the transformative role of empowered production.