Gene bank for rare breeds?

6 July 2001

Gene bank for rare breeds?

CONSERVATIONISTS have launched a £2.5 million appeal to set up a national gene bank to secure the future of rare breeds of farm animals threatened by foot-and-mouth.

The Rare Breeds Survival Trust said the destruction of infected animals and contiguous culls had forced numbers of some breeds to record lows.

Trust chief executive Rosemary Mansbridge said a series of farming crises had resulted in millions of animals being destroyed. "We have to make sure that we hold sufficient genetic material to ensure that when the next farming crisis hits, we shall not lose any of the 63 unique breeds that the charity looks after or the genetic variation which they contain."

Among the breeds hardest hit is the Whitefaced Woodland sheep. Six months ago numbers were approaching 500 breeding females. That figure has since dropped by 25% prompting some scientists to warn that losing rare breeds of sheep and cattle would mean also losing valuable traits in future generations of farm animals.

The number of beef shorthorn cattle had also dropped considerably. The total population of breeding females now stands at just over 1800. Money raised will help house stocks of cattle, pig and sheep semen. It will also use DNA technology to establish a Domesday Record for all breeds that were listed at the start of 2000.

Trust council member George Jackson said saving rare breeds could also help the farming industry as it tried to build a more sustainable future. He added: "If livestock farming is to respond to the challenge of market orientation, to farm better not just bigger, breeders will need access to all the genetic diversity which can be made available to them."

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