Extinction threat for farm animals

Globalisation of livestock markets is leading to a dramatic rate of extinction, with about 20% of farm animals at risk of dying out.

One breed is lost each month, according to the Food and Agricultural Organisation of the United Nations (FAO), and of the 7,600 breeds in FAO's global database, 1,500 are at risk of extinction.

Over the last five years, 60 breeds of cattle, goats, pigs, horses and poultry have died out, according to a draft report, the State of the World's Animal Genetic Resources, which was presented at a meeting in Rome on 15 December, when delegates from more than 90 countries met at the FAO headquarters to discuss the loss of animal genetic diversity worldwide.

The report is the first global assessment of the status of animal genetic resources and the capacity of countries to manage them sustainably.

Comprising information from 169 countries, the final report will be published to mark the first International Technical Conference on Animal Genetic Resources, hosted by the Swiss government, in Interlaken in September 2007.

The conference is expected to adopt a global action plan to halt the loss of animal genetic resources and improve their sustainable use, development and conservation.

José Esquinas-Alcázar, secretary of FAO's Commission on Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture, said: "Maintaining animal genetic diversity will allow future generations to select stocks or develop new breeds to cope with emerging issues, such as climate change, diseases and changing socio-economic factors. Because of countries' interdependence on animal genetic resources, there is a need to facilitate the continued exchange and further development of these resources, without unnecessary barriers and to ensure that benefits reach farmers, pastoralists, breeders, consumers and society as a whole.

"The Conference in Interlaken next year will provide countries a historic opportunity to formulate a common strategy to address the ongoing erosion of animal genetic resources and to better use them for food security and sustainable development," he said.

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