Several of world’s farm animal breeds are under threat of extinction due to indiscriminate cross-breeding, and there is need for stronger efforts to use the pool of genetic resources sustainably to improve production and food security on a warmer, more crowded planet, the UN food agency said.
It said while livestock keepers and policymakes worldwide were increasingly keen on harnessing animal biodiversity for higher produciton, the reality was that some 17 percent (1,458) breeds were facing extinction.
The risk status of many others (58 percent) is simply unknown due to a lack of data on the size and structure of their populations, while early 100 livestock breeds have gone extinct between 2000 and 2014, said the Second Report on the State of World’s Animal Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture.
It said while country data showed that indiscriminate cross-breeding was the main cause of genetic erosion, other common threats to animal genetic diversity were the increasing use of non-native breeds, weak policies and institutions regulating the livestock sector, the decline of traditional livestock production systems, and the neglect of breeds considered not competitive enough.
Europe and the Caucasus, and North America are the two areas in the world with the highest proportion of at-risk breeds. In absolute terms, the highest number of at-risk breeds can be found in Europe and the Caucasus, the report said.
Genetic diversity provides the raw material for farmers and pastoralists to improve their breeds and adapt livestock populations to changing environments and changing demands.
“For thousands of years, domesticated animals, like sheep, chickens and camels, have contributed directly to the livelihoods and food security of millions of people,” said FAO Director General José Graziano da Silva, “That includes some 70 percent of the world’s rural poor today.”
“Genetic diversity is a prerequisite for adaptation in the face of future challenges”, he said, adding that the report will “underpin renewed efforts to ensure that animal genetic resources are used and developed to promote global food security, and remain available for future generations.”
Among the future challenges are climate change, emerging diseases, pressure on land and water, and shifting market demands, which make it more important than ever to ensure animal genetic resources are conserved and used sustainably.
Currently, some 38 species and 8,774 separate breeds of domesticated birds and mammals are used in agriculture and food production.