The concern over diminishing animal genetic resources was addressed at the United Nations Conference on Environment and Development, the "Earth Summit", in Rio de Janeiro in 1992. Canada has established a national program for conservation of farm animal genetic resources that is part of the broader complex of conservation and concern for the environment and its protection.
Convention on Biological Diversity. As an outcome of the Rio "Earth Summit" meeting on the environment, Canada signed the Convention (UNEP, 1992) and was one of the first countries to ratify it. The Convention is a legally-binding international treaty that commits Canada to the provisions of the framework of that treaty. It involves, among other issues, a commitment to develop a Canadian biodiversity strategy and carry out plans for domestic and global biodiversity conservation.
United Nations Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO). The recommendations on conservation of farm animal genetic resources from the Rio "Earth Summit" are the basis for the FAO international program for conservation of farm animal genetic resources (Agenda 21, Chapter 14, "Promoting Sustainable Agriculture and Rural Development,"; UNEP, 1992).
FAO has used expert consultations to derive a program for global farm animal genetic resources conservation. Canada was represented at these expert consultations and had a role in defining the processes to be used at FAO to support the effort. The publication of the FAO Expert Consultation (1992) is a comprehensive source of information on the technical aspects, programs and needs for the conservation of animal genetic resources.
United States. The National Research Council undertook a major review of the conservation of animal genetic resources, starting in 1986. A book has been published covering important aspects and providing recommendations for a world effort (NRC, 1993).
The Agricultural Research Service (ARS) of the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) has expressed their desire to pursue efforts to establish a data base for North America's animal genetic resources and to develop protocols for the cryopreservation of animal genetic resources stored in a gene bank. The first step will be to agree on a common system of conservation of animal genetic resources.
To support this, ARS-USDA is interested in increasing their collaboration and in the coordination of efforts in gene mapping and more specifically, in identification of quantitative trait loci in farm animals. Such initiatives would lead to a more effective program of gene conservation while providing a better description of the material being catalogued and stored. Canadian cooperation with the ARS-USDA is underway.
Canada. The Government of Canada has indicated its commitment to assure that the quality of the Canadian environment is maintained. Canada's genetic resources are recognized as a central feature in this effort.
Our genetic resources risk being diminished by, for example, increased specialization of agriculture involving fewer breeds of plants and animals. The Government will pursue actions to preserve and enhance Canada's genetic resources by acquiring and/or developing, adapting, monitoring, utilizing and/or releasing plant, animal and other biological genetic resources.....Genetic resources will provide the basis for research on advanced technology and breeding procedures to enhance resistance to diseases, insects and other environmental stresses. (Canada's Green Plan, 1992).
In support of this initiative, Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada, as a key responsible federal agency, developed a plan to assure the preservation of animal, plant and microbial genetic resources important to the future of Canadian food production. The plan had the following components:
These activities will be undertaken through completing cataloguing, testing for key traits, increased collection efforts for seeds and research into conservation of animal, insect and microbial genetic resources.
Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada's Research Branch has received specific program funding vis-à-vis animal and other genetic resources conservation efforts. The Centre for Food and Animal Research, with the support of the Canada Committee on Animals, the Department of Animal Science of the University of Manitoba, as well as the Canadian Animal Production Biotechnology Network, organized a National Workshop on Animal Genome Research, June 17 and 18, 1994. This provided an opportunity to review animal genetic resources and their future use (Ho and Lister, 1995).
This Workshop focused on gene mapping, in particular on quantitative gene loci, and on research for gene markers to be used in marker assisted selection in farm animals. The major emphasis was on charting a program of genome research based on an assessment of where we are in Canada as one small player in an ever increasingly technical world. At the same time, sources of genetic material including establishment of gene banks, depositories of polymerase chain reaction primers, DNA probes and other tissues were discussed as tools for the research. Ultimately, the aim was to assure the application of research to Canadian animal industries to assure a strong and competitive situation in the future.
A representation of interested individuals from provinces, industry, conservation organizations, universities and Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada met at the first National Workshop On A Canadian Germplasm Network, October 14 and 15, 1993, where valuable ideas and concepts on the development of a conservation system for animal genetic resources were generated. Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada's Research Branch has established a Germplasm Network Steering Committee to assure coordination between individuals involved in conservation efforts related to genetic resources of plants, animals and other organisms. One of this Committee's fundamental goals is the efficient dissemination of advances in conservation and related techniques.
In addition, the First National Workshop on Conservation of Animal Germplasm was held earlier, on November 13 and 14, 1990. It helped identify broad strategy recommendations, intellectual property rights and means of enlarging the interest by industry, universities, provincial governments and conservancy individuals and organizations in conservation of animal genetic resources. Emphasis was placed on establishing policies and programs, setting up data bases, establishing gene banks, encouraging partnerships, preparing legislation and conducting research (Shrestha, 1992).