Farm animal diversity under threat, FAO says

Updated: 2007-06-15 03:46

The rapid spread of large-scale industrial livestock production focused on a narrow range of breeds is the biggest threat to the world's farm animal diversity, according to a report presented on Thursday to the Commission on Genetic Resources for the UN Food and Agriculture Organization ( FAO).

Surging global demand for meat, milk and eggs has led to heavy reliance on high-output animals intensively bred to supply uniform products, according to The State of the World's Animal Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture.

The problem is compounded by the ease with which genetic material can now be moved around the world, said the report, which draws on information from 169 countries.

"In the next 40 years, the world's population will rise from today's 6.2 billion to 9 billion, with all the growth occurring in the developing countries," said FAO Assistant Director-General Alexander Muller in his address to the commission.

"We need to increase the resilience of our food supply, by maintaining and deploying the widest possible portfolio of genetic resources, which are vital and irreplaceable", he said.

"Global warming is an additional threat to all genetic resources, increasing the pressure on biodiversity," Muller added. "Yet we need these genetic resources for the adaptation of agriculture to climate change."

"One livestock breed a month has become extinct over the past seven years, and time is running out for one-fifth of the world's breeds of cattle, goats, pigs, horses and poultry," said Muller. " This report, the first-ever global overview of livestock biodiversity and of the capacity within countries to manage their animal genetic resources, is a wake-up call to the world."

"Effective management of animal genetic diversity is essential to global food security, sustainable development and the livelihoods of millions of people," said Irene Hoffmann, Chief of FAO's Animal Production Service.

According to the report, 48 percent of the world's countries report no national in vivo conservation programs, and 63 percent report that they have no in vitro programs, that is, the conservation of embryos, semen or other genetic material, with the potential to reconstitute live animals at a later date. Similarly, in many countries, structured breeding programs are absent or ineffective.

At this week's meeting of FAO's Commission on Genetic Resources -- the only international institution dealing with all genetic resources in agriculture, forestry and fisheries -- experts from around the world are expected to endorse the findings of the report, which will be formally launched at the International Technical Conference on Animal Genetic Resources in Interlaken, Switzerland, in September 2007.

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