Livestock genetic diversity
Key messagesIn several countries, populations of native breeds, although generally well adapted to local circumstances and resources, remain in critically low numbers, being replaced by a few and widespread highly productive breeds, introduced for this purpose. The fact that native breeds make up only a small part of the total population, and that a high percentage of native breeds are endangered(1) indicates a risk of loss of biodiversity. Although data are available for only a few countries, these indicate that many native cattle breeds are endangered. The situation for sheep is also problematic. Overall, the situation is stable but negative.
(1) According to FAO, an endangered breed is assessed on quantitative criteria as the total number of breeding females or the overall population size and the percentage of purebred females. Here, however, each country has its own interpretation.
Are fewer livestock breeds being used in Europe?
Evolution of native population sizes and endangered breeds (cattle)
Note: How to read the graph: In France in 2005, around 40 % of the cattle population was native and 50 % of native cattle breeds were endangered.
ETC/BD and BRG Paris (Bureau des Ressources Génétiques), 2009.
Evolution of native population sizes and endangered breeds in selected European countries (sheep)
Note: How to read the graph: In France in 2005, around 90 % of the sheep population was native and 40 % of native sheep breeds were endangered.
ETC/BD and BRG Paris (Bureau des Ressources Génétiques), 2009.
The situation of endangered breeds is highly variable across countries and between cattle and sheep. In France and Germany, which have implemented breed conservation strategies and
programmes, the situation of endangered cattle breeds is slightly improving while it is worsening for sheep. In Poland, where conservation strategies are more recent, the situation fluctuates. Cattle breeds are in a critical situation in the Netherlands and in Greece.
Animal breeds constitute a pool of genetic resources of considerable potential value in a changing society and environment. An increase in the proportion of introduced (non-native) breeds shows a trend towards a homogenisation of the genetic pool across European countries, with widespread use of the same highly productive breeds. Generally this happens at the expense of native breeds populations which have their own genetic characteristics, more specific to a country and which contribute to the overall genetic diversity across Europe. Both the widespread use of the same highly productive introduced breeds and the decline of some native breeds represent a risk to livestock genetic diversity.
While old native breeds may be less productive than highly specialised breeds, they are generally well adapted to local circumstances and resources and may increase resilience in the long term. They are an important source of genetic variability for future breeding programmes.
Breeds with small populations are in general more vulnerable than those with large populations. The main response to the loss genetic diversity is through adopting specific conservation programmes for native breeds. In the case of native breeds, the objective of all conservation programmes should be to increase the breeding female populations or at least stabilise them.
Whether a target should be set for the percentage of a country's cattle or sheep population that should consist of native breeds is a societal choice. However, as regards the proportion of native breeds endangered, the target should be zero if the loss of genetic diversity is to be halted.
At this stage, the livestock genetic diversity indicator should be interpreted with care because:
(i) there is still no agreement among countries on the definition of 'native' and 'non-native' breeds. The figures provided are those reported by individual countries, based on their own definitions and this obviously determines the patterns seen in Figures 1 and 2;
(ii) loss of native breeds, when they change status from endangered to extinct, can reduce the proportion of native breeds that are endangered.
At EU level, the Community programme on the conservation, characterisation, collection and utilisation of genetic resources in agriculture, established by Council Regulation (EC) No. 870/2004, co-funds actions for conserving genetic resources, increasing the use of under-utilised species and varieties in agriculture, and improving the coordination of actions in the field of international undertakings on genetic resources. The programme has a budget of EUR 10 million.
The Community programme complements the actions co-funded by the new Rural Development Council Regulation (EC) No. 1698/2005 [Article 39(5)] (http://ec.europa.eu/agriculture/rurdev/leg/index_en.htm), and by the Framework Programmes of the European Community for Research and Technology Development.
- Bureau des Ressources Génétiques: www.brg.prd.fr.
- FAO: www.fao.org/biodiversity/geneticresources/en.
Indicator specification and metadata
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
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 (http://dad.fao.org/en/TOOLS/Present/p-aid.pdf).
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
2010 biodiversity target
2010 biodiversity target 'to significantly reduce the rate of biodiversity decline by 2010'
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.
No methodology references available.
No uncertainty has been specified
Data sets uncertainty
No uncertainty has been specified
MAIN DISADVANTAGES OF THE INDICATOR
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.
ANALYSIS OF OPTIONS
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.
FAO-STAT Statistical Database
provided by Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO)
Biodiversity (Primary topic)
- SEBI 006
Contacts and ownership
EEA Contact InfoKatarzyna Biala
EEA Management Plan2010 1.2.2 (note: EEA internal system)
Frequency of updates
For references, please go to www.eea.europa.eu/soer or scan the QR code.
This briefing is part of the EEA's report The European Environment - State and Outlook 2015. The EEA is an official agency of the EU, tasked with providing information on Europe's environment.
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