November 2007: The rate of extinction of livestock breeds around the world is “alarming”, according to the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organisation.

The FAO is urging the international community to adopt a global plan of action to stem erosion of the world’s farm animal diversity and protect the global food supply.The organisation’s Assistant Director-General Alexander Müller said: “Wise management of the world’s animal genetic resources is of ever greater importance.”Addressing the first International Technical Conference on Animal Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture, he said: “The options that these resources offer for maintaining and improving animal production will be of enormous significance in the coming decades.“Climate change and the emergence of new and virulent livestock diseases highlight the importance of retaining the capacity to adapt our agricultural production systems.”Livestock breeding is crucial in this respect, the FAO says. Many breeds at risk of extinction have unique characteristics that may be useful in confronting these and other challenges in the years to come. Traits such as resistance to disease or adaptation to climatic extremes could prove fundamental to the food security in the future.According to FAO’s State of the World’s Animal Genetic Resources report, at least one livestock breed a month has become extinct over the past seven years, which means its genetic characteristics have been lost forever. Around 20 per cent of the world’s breeds of cattle, goats, pigs, horses and poultry are currently at risk of extinction, according to the report.

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