Animal diversity urgently needed for the future

Posted Feb 24, 2016 by Tim Sandle
According to a new United Nations report, animal biodiversity is needed to improve production and food security on a warmer, more crowded planet.
Cattle in the field.
Cattle in the field.
The call comes from the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) of the United Nations, and is made after a review of scientific data. This is made in a report titled “The Second Report on the State of the World's Animal Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture.”
The report highlights some alarming statistics pertaining to farm animals. Between 2000 and 2014, around 100 livestock breeds became extinct. Bringing this forward to today, changes to the planet and modern living mean that 17 percent (1,458) of the world's farm animal breeds face the risk of extinction. To add to this, 58 percent could face a similar risk in the future, although precise data is lacking.
The root cause for this is appears to be indiscriminate cross-breeding, which causes genetic erosion. This is a common practice across several countries. Other activities impinging upon animal genetic diversity include the wider use of non-native breeds; weak institutions for regulating farming; a reduction in traditional livestock production systems; and the neglect of certain breeds.
Worst affected areas are in Europe and North America. This is due to the tendency to focus on highly specialized livestock breeds, meaning the range of different types of animals is very small.
In a briefing, FAO Director General José Graziano da Silva, noted: “Genetic diversity is a prerequisite for adaptation in the face of future challenges”, and adding that world governments need to “ensure that animal genetic resources are used and developed to promote global food security, and remain available for future generations.”
To protect genetic diversity, the report notes that, back in 2007, there was a United Nation recommendation that each nation establish a gene bank, to conserve genetic information about animals and seeds. As of the end of 2015, only 10 nations have established such a system.
Gene banks a biorepository, designed to preserve genetic material. With plants, this is by freezing cuttings or stocking the seeds. With animals, the process is by freezing of sperm or eggs in cryogenic freezers.
To add to animal breeding practices and selection of animal types, the report also considers the impact of climate change; new pathogens; population growth; and migration, with each of these seen as affecting food security.