Conservation status of wild relatives of animals used for food

Conservation status of wild relatives of animals used for food

The Global Plan of Action for Animal Genetic Resources calls for action to conserve the wild species that are related to livestock. The global conservation status of wild species is monitored through the IUCN Red List. This shows that at present 21 percent of the world’s 5 488 mammal species and 12 percent of its 9 990 bird species are threatened with extinction. In contrast, a greater proportion of wild relatives of the major mammal livestock species are at risk of extinction: 44 percent of sheep and goats, 50 percent of pigs and 83 percent of cattle. More wild relatives of the chicken are also at risk (25 percent) than bird species overall. These figures indicate the need to pay much more attention to the relationship between the conservation of biological diversity and human well-being. Therefore, there is an urgent need to coordinate responses to the loss of biodiversity and the reduction in variation that may prove vital for animal genetic resources in the future. Intergovernmental meetings being held this autumn offer the prospect of beginning this process.

The Global Plan of Action for Animal Genetic Resources states that the wild relatives of domestic animal species require protection (FAO, 2007a). However, all analyses indi- cate that the conservation status of wild species continues to deteriorate (e.g. Vié, Hilton-Taylor and Stuart, 2008; CBD, 2010). It is, therefore, timely to report the current level of extinction risk facing the wild relatives of the main livestock species. This is important for two reasons: first to indicate that the concern over animal genetic resources should not be limited to rare breeds or varieties that have already been domesticated and second, to encourage a formal discussion on ways in which global efforts to conserve animal genetic resources and biodiversity may be harmonized.

Eight years ago, the parties to the Convention on Biological Diversity agreed to reduce the rate of biodiver- sity loss significantly (CBD, 2003). This is widely known as the 2010 target (see for example Fisher, 2009) and was subsequently included as a target contributing towards the United Nations Millennium Development Goal 7 “Environmental Sustainability” in view of the importance of biodiversity in sustainable development (UN, 2005). Nowhere is this relationship between biodiversity and humans more tangible than in the link between food secur- ity and the risk of species extinctions. This is because highly productive breeds of domesticated livestock have replaced local breeds in many parts of the world, leading to a growing concern that genetic resources that may prove vital for safeguarding future food supply are being eroded (FAO, 2007b). Such resources reside not only in local breeds, but also in wild relatives.