According to SRUC’s Vice Principal of Research the genetic resource provided by British farm animals must be considered as important to biodiversity as our wild species.
Professor Geoff Simm gave three reasons why they must be preserved, to help maintain the agricultural economy, as an important part our social and cultural history and because they could offer solutions to huge global problems such as food security.
Speaking to a conference organised by the British Society of Animal Science (BSAS) and the Rare Breed Survival Trust, Geoff Simm argued that the UK is one of the richest countries in terms of farm animal genetic resources globally.
“We have 235 native farm animal breeds in the UK, a staggering 85% of which are considered to be at risk.”
He stressed that we must maintain the genetic diversity of farm animals to help breeders and the scientific community meet the ‘grand challenges’ the world faces in years to come.
“Whether it is our efforts to stop, stall or adapt to climate change, the need to cope with massively increased demand for food as the population strides towards 9 billion, or manage our natural resources to sustain that population; our genetic resources could be key to human survival,” he said.
According to Professor Simm Farm Animal Genetic Resources (FAnGR) are at risk for two main reasons. The geographical concentration of some breeds which means that entire populations could be decimated if a serious disease hits a specific area and the small size of some breeding populations, with few males in particular.
He argued that government input is needed to ensure this genetic resource is not lost and more research is needed into ways of preserving it. There are on-going studies and technologies such as cloning, sex ratio control and bio banking which could help, but with continuing economic difficulties and new diseases constantly emerging it will not be easy to save this vital resource.