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One-Fifth of Local Livestock at Risk for Extinction after Decades of a Select Few Breeds Being Monocultured by Industrial Agriculture

  • One-Fifth of Local Livestock Risks Extinction
    By Anuradha Kher
    Inter Press Service, Sept 5, 2007
    Straight to the Source

A study released Monday called "The State of the World's Animal Genetic Resources", conducted by the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO), found that an over-reliance on some breeds of livestock imported from the United States and Europe, including the high-milk-yielding Holstein-Friesian cows, egg-laying White Leghorn chickens, and fast-growing large white pigs, is causing the loss of at least one indigenous livestock breed a month.

Since research for the report began in 1999, 2,000 local breeds have been identified as at risk.

An example of over-reliance on a particular breed is the black-and-white Holstein-Friesian dairy cow, which is now found in 128 countries and in all regions of the world. Moreover, 90 percent of cattle in industrialised countries come from only six very tightly defined breeds.

The report, which the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI) and other research groups also contributed to, surveyed farm animals in 169 countries and found that nearly 70 percent of the world's entire remaining unique livestock breeds are found in developing countries. The findings were presented to over 300 policy makers, scientists, breeders, and livestock keepers at the First International Technical Conference on Animal Genetic Resources, being held in Interlaken, Switzerland from Sep. 3-7.

In order to prevent more breeds from going extinct, the FAO is in the process of leading inter-governmental processes to better manage these resources. But the negotiations and political processes will take several years to bear fruit. "And as we speak, breeds are disappearing. So we need to act now," Dr. Carlos Seré, director general of ILRI, told IPS.

In response to these findings, scientists from the Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research (CGIAR), ILRI's supporting organisation, have called for the rapid establishment of gene banks to conserve the sperm and ovaries of key animals critical for the global population's future survival.

"This is the first step," said Seré, who gave the keynote speech on the opening day of the Interlaken conference.

"In the U.S., Europe, China, India, and South America, there are well-established gene banks actively preserving regional livestock diversity," said Seré. "Sadly, Africa has been left wanting and that absence is sorely felt right now because this is one of the regions with the richest remaining diversity and is likely to be a hotspot of breed losses in this century."

Seré is calling for the rapid establishment of gene banks in Africa as one of four practical steps to better characterise, use, and conserve the genetic basis of farm animals for the livestock production systems around the world. "The cost of setting up gene banks is not too high. It's more critical to get institutional support. So this can certainly be achieved in the poorest countries in Africa as well," Seré explained.

Livestock conservation is important, given that industrialised countries built their economies significantly through livestock production and there is no indication that developing countries will be any different. Worldwide, one billion people are involved in animal farming and 70 percent of the rural poor depend on livestock as an important part of their livelihoods.

"For the foreseeable future," Seré said, "farm animals will continue to create means for hundreds of millions of people to escape absolute poverty."

Conserving local breeds in the developing world is crucial also because animals in those countries need to adapt to the environment, not the other way around. "If there is no veterinary care, local breeds can survive but not exotic or imported breeds," he said.

For example, Uganda's indigenous Ankole cattle could face extinction within 20 years because they are being rapidly supplanted by Holstein-Friesians, which produce much more milk. However, during a recent drought, farmers who had Ankole cattle were able to walk them long distances to get to water sources while those who had traded the Ankole for imported breeds lost entire herds.

Scientists and conservationists alike agree that all livestock populations can't be saved. But ILRI has helped lay the groundwork for prioritising livestock conservation efforts in developing regions. Over the past six years, it has built a detailed database, called the Domestic Animal Genetic Resources Information System (DAGRIS), containing research-based information on the distribution, characteristics and status of 669 breeds of cattle, sheep, goats, pigs and chickens indigenous to Africa and Asia.

Sere's proposed four-step plan is a snapshot of what the FAO is suggesting as a plan of action. Apart from establishing gene banks, he has called for the use of market-incentives and good public policy that make it in the farmer's self-interest to maintain diversity. Greater mobility of livestock breeds across national borders and advanced genomic and geographical mapping techniques to predict which breeds are best suited to which environments are the other steps recommended to tackle this problem.

FAO's Assistant Director-General Alexander Müller told the conference that climate change also posed a significant threat to livestock breeds.

"In this situation, the world cannot simply take a business-as-usual, wait-and-see attitude," said Müller. "Climate change means that we are entering a period of unprecedented uncertainty and crisis, which will affect every country."

"The options that these resources offer for maintaining and improving animal production will be of enormous significance in the coming decades," he said. "Climate change and the emergence of new and virulent livestock diseases highlight the importance of retaining the capacity to adapt our agricultural production systems."

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Scotty
post Sep 13 2007, 07:51 PM



I was disappointed to read the comment from ILRI's Dr. Carlos Sere, who said "farm animals will continue to create means for hundreds of millions of people to escape absolute poverty" when there are much better, less environmentally destructive options - especially after the United Nations FAO reported that the global livestock sector generates more greenhouse gases (and deadlier at that) than the global transport sector and is a major source of land and water degradation. And now with this latest news of livestock imports being the cause of extinction for native livestock...very disappointing.

El Lechero
post Dec 6 2007, 06:07 AM


QUOTE (Scotty @ Sep 13 2007, 02:51 PM) *
I was disappointed to read the comment from ILRI's Dr. Carlos Sere, who said "farm animals will continue to create means for hundreds of millions of people to escape absolute poverty" when there are much better, less environmentally destructive options - especially after the United Nations FAO reported that the global livestock sector generates more greenhouse gases (and deadlier at that) than the global transport sector and is a major source of land and water degradation. And now with this latest news of livestock imports being the cause of extinction for native livestock...very disappointing.



I, too, am disappointed at the loss of native livestock, but I would argue that it isn't the livestock themselves that are degrading land and water--it's the way humans have managed (or mismanaged) them. This is also important to think about when considering greenhouse gases released by animals (namely cattle)--The ways in which the animals are raised (confinement) influence the outcomes in the form or wastes and pollution. Although it might look like the problems are with animals, it's we humans, the most destructive animals on the planet, that are the cause of most of the problems.

InsideOut
post Dec 7 2007, 06:18 PM


This is tought prevoking and worth reading... I'm just bumping it to keep it current. Truly is sad that genetic diversity is being reduced... Frightening too.


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House centipedes feed on spiders, bedbugs, termites, cockroaches, silverfish, ants and other household pests. They kill their prey by injecting venom through their fangs.


Robin
post Dec 8 2007, 12:05 PM


We raise(d) endangered breeds for several reasons. They're generally hardier. I couldn't turn a Holstein out to browse in the 20" of snow we have right now. I did turn our Dexter, Scottish Highland and Belted Galloways out. They never hesitated to go through the snow to the woods to eat fresh browse. Excellent meat. Gloucestershire Old Spot pigs didn't hesitate to go out in snow. There's nothing like watching a 600 pound black and white pig with huge floppy ears stretched out on the snow to nap under the winter sun. GOS is by far the best meat we've ever raised and eaten. Anyone gasping at eating endangered animals yet? I believe you keep the best genetics going when you breed the best and eat the rest. Not all animals are breeding quality.

We no longer have livestock. I do still raise Bourbon Red turkeys. They're hardy, though this year's poults aren't wild about the deep snow. They'll adjust. I don't get in the birds' way. They mate naturally, brood and raise their own offspring. They can forage for all of their food if they're loose. They're a sustainable breed unlike the freaks of nature carried in grocery stores. Most everyone can support the efforts put into saving these breeds by using them. It's worth the effort to track them down.


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InsideOut
post Dec 11 2007, 03:11 AM


Robin,

I've not eaten red meat or drank bourbon in five years. But I just had a craving for thick slab of tender meat and warm glass of Makers Mark.

It passed quickly and was pleasent. Thanks.

Good tid bits...



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House centipedes feed on spiders, bedbugs, termites, cockroaches, silverfish, ants and other household pests. They kill their prey by injecting venom through their fangs.