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The basis of a good diet - one adequate for growth, development and maintenance of health - is variety; a variety of foods can supply enough of the complete range of nutrients. Much of the malnutrition seen in the world is a result of relying too heavily on a single staple food.

Improvements in the diet depend on a knowledgable selection of foods that complement one another in the nutrients that they supply. It is, however, difficult in many regions to obtain such variety. Meat can complement most diets, especially those dependent on a limited selection of plant foods.

Meat and meat products are concentrated sources of high quality protein and their amino acid composition usually compensates for shortcomings in the staple food. They supply easily absorbed iron and assist the absorption of iron from other foods as well as zinc, and are rich sources of some of the vitamins in the B group. By providing such nutrients, meat consumption can alleviate common nutritional deficiencies.

The production of animals for meat can be integrated into the overall food system without competing directly with crops for human food; it enables utilization of land that is difficult to cultivate, and supplies valuable by-products as well as improving the fertility of the soil.

The appropriate utilization or expansion of existing sources of meat calls for coherent development of a complex system of production, processing and marketing, including aspects of finance and expertise for construction and operation of meat plants, and means of storage, meat preservation, transport and marketing.

In many regions in developing countries meat production is carried out with efficiency, and slaughter and processing are based on many of recent scientific developments. However, even in industrialized countries there is often considerable room for improvement. In other regions methods are less advanced, with poor control of sanitation, leading to considerable loss of products as well as to the risk of meat borne diseases. Improvements of techniques of slaughter and processing, especially in hygiene, would result in greater yields and higher profits. These would also provide the incentive for increased production.

While it is highly efficient in industrialized countries to specialise in single purpose animals it is often more efficient in some areas to raise dual-purpose animals. There is also scope for increased yields and efficiency by developing indigenous species for meat production, species that even without genetic selection thrive under local climatic conditions and withstand local diseases. Overall there is a great potential in the developing world to increase the production of meat and meat products to the benefit of the health of the consumer.

FAO acknowledges the contribution by Prof. A E. Bender from the UK for writing and editing the book incorporating a manuscript prepared by Mr. Hamid Ahmad from Pakistan. The book is jointly commissioned by the Food and Nutrition Division and the Animal Production and Health Division of FAO and published as part of the FAO series Food and Nutrition Papers.

This publication has been jointly commissioned by the Food Policy and Nutrition Division and the Animal Production and Health Division. The book provides information on nutrition strategies with emphasis on developing countries, and it is intended as a source of information for livestock and meat technologists, nutritionists, food scientists and dieticians concerned with the production, processing and consumption of meat for improving of the nutritional quality of the diet and health of the population