Livestock Breeds at Risk

| 9/7/2007 12:00:00 AM

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A recent article from the Common Dreams News Center cited a study from the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization that was extremely alarming to me: Our tendency to rely on the production of only the most popular livestock breeds is putting one-fifth of the world's breeds at risk of extinction. That translates into about 2,000 breeds.

Why does this constitute a major crisis, you ask? Biodiversity is vital to the health and survival of every species, not just the threatened or endangered ones. It's the consequences we've failed to consider that make this so scary.

Take this example from the article: Indigenous livestock breeds, like native plants, are well-adapted to their environment. When Uganda's cattle producers started to phase out their native Ankole cattle in favor of imported, high-milk-yielding Holsteins, they had a rude awakening. Drought struck, and when the farmers attempted to walk the Holsteins to a distant water source, entire herds were lost. Those who kept their Ankole herds were able to weather the storm. Plus, evidence has shown that diversity in a species' genetic make-up helps combat the spread of disease.

Where vegetation is concerned, note that a certain breed of periwinkle was discovered to be helpful in the treatment of leukemia. It begs the question: Is the cure for AIDS out there?

I believe a certain degree of caution is in order here. Before we carelessly send an entire species to its ultimate demise, let's at least think twice.

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