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Tech & Science Extinction of farm animals threatens food security and genetic diversity

23:56  08 december  2019
23:56  08 december  2019 Source:   msn.com

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Genetic diversity is the total number of genetic characteristics in the genetic makeup of a species. It is distinguished from genetic variability

Animal genetic resources for food and agriculture (AnGR) are a subset of genetic resources (defined by the Convention on Biological Diversity as " genetic material of actual or potential value") and a specific element of agricultural biodiversity.

a close up of a cow: Scottish Highland cattle are listed as a © Provided by ABC Health Scottish Highland cattle are listed as a "recovering" breed by the Rare Breeds Trust of Australia. (ABC Open contributor janiemartinphotography)

Australian agriculture is rapidly breeding out diversity within farmed animals, genetics which could one day be the key to stopping diseases and adapting to changing environments.

The University of Western Australia's Catie Gressier said while extinction and biodiversity were issues often associated with native species, heritage and rare breeds of agricultural animals were also under threat, and many had already been lost.

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But overbreeding and dwindling genetic diversity could limit the ability of livestock populations to adapt the environmental changes, such as global warming For four years leading up to 2014, a European research project chaired by EPFL took stock of the past, present, and future of farm animal genetic

When we talk of animal extinction , we talk of a species in particular becoming extinct . So when there is an extinction of an animal we simply mean that a specific species no longer exists or have died.

"It's really quite alarming," she said.

"Globally, since the early '90s, we've been losing a breed a month — it's a really massive issue.

"With the industrialisation of agriculture, there's been a really strong focus on profitability and there's been a real shift towards a small number of productive hybrids that now dominate the industry almost totally worldwide."

Dr Gressier said most breeds had been lost over the past 30 years with market forces dominating what breeds were farmed for meat.

And she said that could be to the peril of agriculture's long-term sustainability.

"Having a biodiverse environment is so critical in order to have a responsiveness and an adaptability to unforeseen changes occurring climatically [and] economically, in terms of consumer preferences, and also in terms of profitability," she said.

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Ex situ Conservation of Farm Animal Genetic Diversity : conservation of genetic material within Gene pool: the total genetic information in all the genes in a breeding population at a given time. for realizing in the country as a whole food security and sustainable rural development in both the short

Loss of animal genetic diversity currently threatens the sustainability of farming systems. Achieving food security under these circumstances is one of the greatest challenges facing the region. Despite a growing global awareness of the importance of animal genetic resources, little attention has been

Dr Gressier pointed to the current threat of African Swine Fever on the pig industry as a global disease where a range of genetics within existing breeds could be examined for naturally occurring tolerance or resistance.

"Different genetic pools have different capabilities to demonstrate resistance to various diseases," she said.

"We need to have that agility for these new risks.

"In terms of improving stock, a diversity of genetics is really valuable but [so is] mitigating against some of the risks around disease and climate changes that are occurring."

Eat endangered breeds to help survival

Dr Gressier said Australia had no cryo-conservation facilities to collect and store sperm and embryos and laws for some species, such as pigs, did not permit the importation of genetic material.

"The whole conservation effort is in the hands of individual farmers, volunteer organisations, and rare breed societies such as the Rare Breeds Trust of Australia," she said.

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Genetic diversity remains lower, increasing only when gene flow from another population occurs or The chances of inbreeding and genetic homogeneity can increase, possibly leading to inbreeding Mutation accumulation and the extinction of small populations. The American Naturalist, 146(4)

Intensive animal farming or industrial livestock production, also known by its opponents as factory farming , is a type of intensive agriculture

She urged consumers to buy meat from rare breed animals in order to support continued commercial production.

"For example, pork that's coming from Hampshires or Tamworths or Wessex Saddlebacks [pig breeds] that are in a really endangered states," she said.

"If you can support farmers that are growing these breeds that's a really positive step.

"To preserve these animals in our economic situation, it really is about finding how they can have some sort of economic viability."

Berkshire pigs finding a point of difference

In the West Australian wheatbelt, Linton and Kerry Batt have run a commercial herd of Berkshire pigs for the past 10 years.

Berkshires produce fewer pigs per litter and are slower to grow in comparison to the Landrace or Large White breeds which dominate commercial piggeries.

Mr Batt said he marketed his Berkshire pork as being the wagyu of the pork sector.

"Our production is aimed at a very small niche; it's a domestic market for super premium pork," he said.

"We've done the numbers, and we know that we need a price premium for our production.

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Causes of genetic erosion in domestic animals are the lack of appreciation of the value of indigenous breeds and their importance in niche adaptation Among crops, meanwhile, about 75 per cent of genetic diversity was lost in the last century as farmers worldwide switched to genetically uniform

"There is only a small market of people who will pay that price but for us, we're small enough to fill that gap, along with some other excellent Berkshire breeders, and it's worth doing."

Mr Batt said in order for his operation, and his pigs' genetics to survive, he is careful to keep the business viable but is concerned about the agricultural sector losing genetics.

"It should be a concern for everybody; we're seeing gene pools shrink and the loss of diversity," he said.

"We're always looking at the numbers to make sure they are viable and that the business stands on its own merit."

Breeds lost and under threat

Dr Gressier said the Rare Breeds Trust of Australia had a comprehensive list of animals lost, critical, endangered, or vulnerable.

It lists six breeds of sheep as lost, four of pigs, and 10 of cattle.

"In Australia we used to have a really diverse dairy industry with a number of breeds producing milk," she said.

"Now it's about 70 per cent Holstein which produce milk in the kinds of volumes of scale required to meet market demands.

"Chickens are also faring really poorly, particularly meat birds.

"There are very few farmers who are managing to commercially produce meat chickens that aren't the Ross or the Cobb breed."

Dr Gressier is about to lead a UWA-based study of rare breeds being farmed across Australia to understand why farmers stick with rare breed farming and how their work can be better supported.

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