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Livestock genetic diversity (SEBI 006) - Assessment published May 2010

Indicator Assessment Created 10 Sep 2009 Published 21 May 2010 Last modified 16 Feb 2015, 04:23 PM
Topics: ,

Generic metadata


Biodiversity Biodiversity (Primary topic)

sheep | population | biodiversity | cattle
DPSIR: State
Typology: N/A
Indicator codes
  • SEBI 006
Temporal coverage:
1995-1997, 2000-2001, 2004-2005
Geographic coverage:
France, Germany, Greece, Netherlands, Poland

Key policy question: Are fewer livestock breeds being used in Europe?

Key messages

In 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.

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.

Data source:

ETC/BD and BRG Paris (Bureau des Ressources Génétiques), 2009.

Downloads and more info

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.

Data source:

ETC/BD and BRG Paris (Bureau des Ressources Génétiques), 2009.

Downloads and more info

Key assessment

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)] (, and by the Framework Programmes of the European Community for Research and Technology Development.



Data sources

More information about this indicator

See this indicator specification for more details.

Contacts and ownership

EEA Contact Info

User not found: bialakat


EEA Management Plan

2010 1.2.2 (note: EEA internal system)


Frequency of updates

Updates are scheduled every 6 years in July-September (Q3)


European Environment Agency (EEA)
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