9 March 2001

Embryo flushing is acceptable but…

Embryo flushing is acceptable but…

Embryo flushing is acceptable but…

By Jeremy Hunt

IF embryo collection is absolutely imperative to a business functioning in future, breeders might persuade breeding companies to flush embryos. But collecting semen is definitely ruled out.

A spokesman for Genus said it was prepared to undertake on-farm flushing to save valuable bloodlines if it was "business critical". But this might be hard to achieve because all Genus ET-vets have been temporarily seconded to MAFF.

Collecting semen appears to be another matter. Mark Smith, the companys business director, said: "The risk of introducing foot-and-mouth infection into large stocks of semen held by Genus means no semen will be collected on-farm until we have an official assurance that is safe to do so."

Unlike the 1967 epidemic, this crisis threatens to wipe out years of performance related genetic progress made by individual herds and flocks. But despite this most vets believed that collecting semen and embryos was unjustifiable.

Alastair Greig, SACs head of veterinary science at Perth, said it was not worth the risk. "SACs Edinburgh Genetics has suspended all its ET work. I think breeders should look logically at the situation. If you dont get foot-and-mouth there will have been no need to try and save bloodlines through flushing. And if you flush and then fall victim to the disease the embryos will have to be destroyed."

David Benson, chief executive of the British Charolais Cattle Society, urged all pedigree breeders to be extremely vigilant in their efforts to safeguard their stock.

"In the dreadful event of being hit by foot-and-mouth, its vital that all stock are subjected to a pedigree valuation before slaughter. Breeders should make sure they can quickly avail themselves of this service if their herd is affected because commercial compensation is a fraction of the value of pedigree stock."

Although the UKs rarest livestock breeds are now spread nationwide through a network of breeders, the real threat to these limited bloodlines was highlighted by the Rare Breeds Survival Trust when it announced this week that one of the oldest herds of British Lop pigs – Britains rarest pig breed – had been slaughtered.

The herd, based in Cornwall, comprised only a few sows, but it did contain some of the breeds rarest bloodlines. "Fortunately, there are other British Lop herds that have similar family bloodlines, but the loss of this herd strikes at the heart of farmers and breeders who are striving to preserve rare breed bloodlines," said Richard Lutwyche of the RBST.

There are 34 British Lop breeders in the UK, but breeding sow numbers are down to under 200. The RBST holds semen stocks of all cattle and pig breeds on its list but does not keep any sheep semen.

"The fear is that if foot-and-mouth continues to spread we risk losing rare breed bloodlines that can never be replaced," said Mr Lutwyche.

PEDIGREEBREEDERS

&#8226 Be especially vigilant.

&#8226 Value stock professionally.

&#8226 Rare bloodlines threatened.

British Lop pigs could be endangered if the foot-and-mouth crisis spreads.