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Livestock genetic diversity

Indicator Specification Created 26 Feb 2007 Published 21 May 2010 Last modified 04 Sep 2015, 06:59 PM
Topics: ,
Indicator codes: SEBI 006

Assessment versions

Published (reviewed and quality assured)


Justification for indicator selection


Policy relevance and meaningfulness: the indicator is highly relevant by addressing the country responsibility to maintain native breeds, as a contribution to global genetic diversity and the level of endangerment of some of these native breeds, for which the national responsibility is even higher.

Biodiversity relevance: the indicator refers to one of the three components of biodiversity, i.e. genetic diversity and directly shows loss of biodiversity.

Monitoring progress towards 2010 target: by providing an assessment based on a time-series which can be completed in 2010, the indicator shows to what extent the maintenance of breeds of national responsibility is secured (stabilised or enhanced).

Depending on countries, there may be some conflicting pictures on trends in cattle and sheep populations.

Broad acceptance and understandability: although discussions remain on the definition of native breeds as well as on the assessment of level of endangerment, each country recognises that these notions are important and relevant to address in an indicator.

Spatial coverage of data: data are provided by National Focal points on Animal genetic resources, as part of the general reporting to FAO on the State of the World of Animal genetic resources. Data are in principle available for all 37 countries member of the European Regional Focal Point on Animal genetic resources (ERFP).

Temporal coverage of data: three periods are considered (+/- 2 years): 1995, 2000 and 2005. It will be possible to have another data point in 2010.

Scientific references

  • No rationale references available

Indicator definition

The present indicator shows the share of breeding female population between introduced and native breed species (namely, cattle and sheep) per country, as a proxy to assess the genetic diversity of these species.

In addition, it shows the proportion of native breeds which is threatened due to low breeding female population.


% of populations

Policy context and targets

Context description

Animal breeds constitute a pool of genetic resources of considerable potential value in a changing society and environment.

A large number of breeds which were exploited in the beginning of the 20th century are now threatened with decline due to a lack of economic interest. Their population becomes too low to ensure their viability. Simultaneously, intensification, uniformisation and modernisation of production methods have led to the selection and widespread use (thus large populations) of a small number of highly performing breeds which to a large extent can fulfill European needs for agricultural products. Many of these breeds are introduced (i.e. non-native). The widespread use of introduced cattle breeds, whose population tends to become dominant in some countries, is called the 'holsteineisation effect'.

In Europe, apart from food purposes, there is an increase in the use of animals for other goals like hobby farming and the use of animals for sports (horses). These developments also require a large variability in the genetic variation of the species used for these purposes.

While old native breeds may be less productive than highly specialised breeds, they are generally very well adapted to local circumstances and resources and may increase resilience in the long term. Considering the share of native breeds populations within each country highlights the national responsibility for conservation of the related breeds. Breeds with a low population are in general more vulnerable than those with a high population. The indicator shows the share of breeding female population between introduced and native breeds (for cattle and sheep) per country. In addition its shows the proportion of native breeds which is threatened due to low breeding female population.

Conservation of livestock breeds - among other genetic resources - is addressed:

At international level

  • in the Convention on Biological Diversity (Article 1), 1992. According to the CBD, countries remain sovereign over their natural resources.
  • in the FAO Global Strategy for the management of farm animal genetic resources, 1997 (

At EU level

  • in the European Community Biodiversity Strategy (1998).
  • in the corresponding Biodiversity Action Plan on Agriculture ((COM (2001) 162), which called for a new Community programme on the conservation, characterization, collection and utilisation of genetic resources in agriculture.
  • in the Message from the stakeholders conference held in Malahide in May 2004.
  • in the second Community programme on the conservation, characterisation, collection and utilisation of genetic resources in agriculture (Council Regulation (EC) No 870/2004).
  • in addition, a number of EU Member States have promoted agri-environment measures under their Rural Development Programmes to support the keeping of rare breeds.

At national level

Many European countries have a national strategy on genetic resources.

Relation of the indicator to the focal area

As highlighted in the Convention on Biological Diversity, genetic diversity is one of the three components of biological diversity. Conserving genetic diversity increases resilience by maintaining breeds adapted to local circumstances.

The EU headline indicator which is considered here, only refers to species of socio-economic importance and does not address wild genetic diversity.


2010 biodiversity target

Related policy documents

Key policy question

Are fewer livestock breeds being used in Europe?


Methodology for indicator calculation

The indicator is based on data reported to FAO by National coordinators. Reporting is done on a voluntary basis.

In the current absence of a European common approach for defining what is a breed native to a country as well as its level of endangerment based on the population of breeding females, the proposed indicator relies on countries' individual assessments as reported by the National Focal Points for Animal Genetic Resources.

In general a breed is considered as native to the country when it has been bred for many generations within a country and when a country recognizes a particular responsibility for the protection of the breed.

As a general reference, the EC has given thresholds to consider cattle and sheep breed populations at risk (EU regulation No 445/2002), i.e. 7 500 and 10 000 breeding females respectively for cattle and sheep. But currently, each country uses its own definition to set up its conservation programmes.

Sub-indicators are considered for two species: cattle and sheep.

For the purpose of the indicator, national focal points on Animal genetic resources have been requested to provide figures on:

  • Total number of breeding females of cattle/ sheep breeds
  • Total number of breeding females of native cattle/ sheep breeds
  • Total number of cattle/sheep breeds
  • Total number of cattle/sheep breeds whose population is endangered (i.e. below a threshold defined by each country)

These figures are provided for three different periods (1995-1997, 2000 and 2005).

Three countries (France, Germany, and the Netherlands) have initially provided the data to an assigned expert (French National Focal Point), for aggregation and indicator development.

In addition, the European Regional Focal Point on Animal Genetic Resources (ERFP AnGR) will send a request to all National Coordinators (37 countries) to obtain the appropriate data.

Methodology for gap filling

No methodology for gap filling has been specified. Probably this info has been added together with indicator calculation.

Methodology references

No methodology references available.

Data specifications

EEA data references

  • No datasets have been specified here.

Data sources in latest figures


Methodology uncertainty

No uncertainty has been specified

Data sets uncertainty

No uncertainty has been specified

Rationale uncertainty


Intra-variability within the same breed is not captured in this indicator.

Data are currently provided on the basis of national definitions. In the future a more harmonised European approach can help refine the indicator.


The CBD headline indicator refers to 'Trends in genetic diversity of domesticated animals, cultivated plants, fish species and trees of major socioeconomic importance'. Five indicators have been suggested by CBD SBSTTA to feed this headline indicator, i.e.:

1. Ex situ crop collections

2. Livestock genetic resources

3. Fish genetic resources

4. Tree genetic resources

5. Varieties on-farm

The present indicator only refers to 2) 'Livestock genetic resources'.

Indicators related to 1) and 5) for crops as well as 4) for trees may be further developed in future.

Further work

Short term work

Work specified here requires to be completed within 1 year from now.

Long term work

Work specified here will require more than 1 year (from now) to be completed.

Work description

SUGGESTIONS FOR IMPROVEMENT Under the European Regional Focal Point on Animal Genetic Resources Programme, a group has been set up to work specifically on definitions and indicators on animal genetic resources within a European perspective. Further work is needed within this group on common definitions of native breeds as well as on thresholds of breed populations to consider levels of endangerment of breeds. In addition, a more regular reporting to FAO should be organised among 38 European countries thanks to the EC-funded EFABIS project.

Resource needs

No resource needs have been specified


Not started


2099/01/01 00:00:00 GMT+1

General metadata

Responsibility and ownership

EEA Contact Info

Katarzyna Biala


European Environment Agency (EEA)


Indicator code
SEBI 006
Version id: 1
Primary theme: Biodiversity Biodiversity


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Frequency of updates

Updates are scheduled every 6 years


DPSIR: State
Typology: N/A
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