Canada’s Livestock Animal Genetic Resource
Need for a National Conservancy Strategy
Canadian Farm Animal Genetic
January 18, 2002
Prepared under the direction of:
Dr. L. P. Milligan
The Foundation is most grateful to the many Canadian scientists
who have given freely of their time and thoughts during
the assembly of information for this report. The Foundation appreciates the financial support of Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada in the preparation of this report.
Table of Contents
|The Canadian Scene|
|The International Scene|
|Food and Agriculture Organization Activities|
|The USDA National Animal Germplasm Program|
|Inventories of Canadian Farm Animal Genetic Biodiversity 6|
|International Benefits Available to Canada|
The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations has recognized the major depletion of livestock genetic resources throughout the world and has taken action. FAG is, therefore, leading an international initiative to address the issue of conservation of livestock genetic resources and Canada is a participant in these discussions. Canada is expected to report and act effectively and seriously. However, within the country, conservation of livestock genetic resources is dealt with by scattered groups driven largely by their own determination, philanthropy and agenda. This does not constitute a meaningful national investment, or effort, in future livestock adaptability and advancement of livestock genomic knowledge.
There now must be national leadership and funding (i.e. appointment of an internationally
recognized champion and a prestigious steering committee) dedicated to the immediate
development and rapid implementation of an effective plan of action. This plan
must be comprehensive in its involvement of people, research needs, collaborations
and time lines.
Background: Back to top
This report is intended to provide a review of the current state of Canada’s efforts to protect and conserve the diversity of our livestock animal genetic resource. Canada has considered its livestock animal genetics as an economic venture exporting large volumes of semen, and embryos throughout the world. However, like the rest of the world, Canada has only recently begun to understand and focus upon the need to conserve and preserve its current genetic pool. As a nation, our commitment to this issue is exemplified through our signing of the Convention on Biodiversity in the early 1990’s.
Currently, there are co-ordinated international efforts being made to ensure that farm animal genetic resources are managed so that a diverse genetic pool is available for future generations. This reflects serious concern over the rapid discard of genetic resources in the form of breeds and lines worldwide in pursuit of immediate maximum profitability. The discard process has come about through tremendous consolidation in commercial livestock breeding, intense selection of males and by way of import substitution for indigenous animals and birds. The conservation effort is particularly important as livestock and livestock products account for approximately 35% of the world’s total agricultural revenue. The demand for these products will continue to increase as the world’s population expands, as urbanization continues and as incomes rise. Thus the intensification of livestock production to meet this demand is creating international uniformity and a much less diverse genetic pool. This will seriously limit future flexibility, adaptability and sustainability.
In 1993, the FAQ initiated the development of a Global Strategy for the Management
of Farm Animal Genetic Resources. Five years later, FAQ was asked to coordinate
the preparation of the Report on the State of the World’s Animal Genetic
Resources. Canada, as with all other contributing countries, is expected
to complete and submit its Country Report by August, 2002.
The Canadian Scene: Back to top
For several decades, Canada has undertaken programmes in support of livestock performance improvement. Record of Performance (ROP) programmes were extensively supported by both the federal and provincial governments and livestock producers took advantage of these programmes to improve the production of livestock products. In the 1990’s, in an effort to control its expenditures, the Federal government reduced its programming and looked to producer organizations to provide greater leadership in this area. While this ensures that those who directly benefit from these programmes pay for them, the public good (i.e. retention of the livestock gene pool) seems to have been overlooked. As in developing countries, little effort in Canada seems to be directed towards the maintenance of minor breeds and lines and thus genetic diversity is being reduced. Reliance on fanciers and hobbyists seems to be our approach to maintaining genetic variability. This is particularly true in poultry and rabbits and while commendable as an adjunct, it can never be regarded as a substitute for a national conservancy action plan.
As well, there appears to be no coordinated programme to monitor the loss of breeds or lines. In the case of several recent amalgamations of poultry breeding companies, it is known that almost all lines not involved in the production of current commercial products were abandoned, even though they may have possessed potentially valuable attributes which could be necessary in future products.
With respect to federal government funded livestock research, the allocation of dollars does not at all reflect the reality of Canada’s Agriculture revenues which over the past decade have approximated 55% livestock products and 45% from plant products. There is expectation that the animal proportion will increase. In fact, according to FAO discussion paper number 28 entitled "Livestock to 2020-The Next Food Revolution" the projected annual growth in the production and consumption of meat and milk over the next 20 years is to be approximately 3.0% in the Developing World and 0.5% in the Developed World, with a world average of 1.7%. Agriculture and Agri-food Canada however funds research at the following levels.
Several years ago, the Canadian Agrifood Research Council formed an Expert
Committee on Animal Genomics, Genetic Resources, and Reproduction The purpose
of the committee is to provide advice to the Council. As can be seen by the
name of this group, its mandate is very broad and, given its limited funding,
the committee has been unable to provide detailed advice with respect to the
development of a national conservancy action plan including a research component.
Accordingly, as such a plan does not appear to be forthcoming and while the
Country Report to be sent to FAQ will provide a snapshot of our current livestock
animal genetic resource, planning for the future will require the total focus
of a group of Canadian experts dedicated specifically to conservation of animal
The International Scene: Back
Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) Activities:
One of the responsibilities of the FAQ is the development of strategies leading to food security throughout the world. At the current time, one out of six people in the world are underfed2. At today’s rate of population growth, the consumption of food and agriculture products is expected to double over the next 20 years3. There is potential for increasing food and agriculture production in most developing countries if resources, including genetic resources, can be conserved and used wisely. In addition, a broad base of animal genetic resources can be used to reduce farmers’ exposure to risk. As well, livestock have become important cultural elements essential to maintaining many traditional lifestyles
The diversity of animal genetic resources available to farmers and the resulting range of products make it possible for humans to survive in a wide span of environments, from the hot and humid tropics to arid deserts and extremely cold polar or mountainous regions. Indeed, in many areas livestock are a living, mobile food reserve that can be used in the event of crop failure. Genetic diversity also enables livestock to adapt to diseases, parasites, wide variation in the availability and quality of food and water, and other limiting factors.
The Parties to the Convention on Biological Diversity have been discussing
genetic resources for food and agriculture for some time. It was the major theme
of the third meeting of the Parties in 1996. In November 1966, Heads of State
gathered at the World Food Summit in Rome and agreed to a Plan of Action that
contains Commitments, Objectives and Actions aimed at addressing food security
and rural development. The need to develop and make better use of livestock
resources was recognized as a fundamental element of the Plan of Action.
The USDA National Animal Germplasm Program Back to top
In 1990, the United States Congress gave the Agricultural Research Service (ARS) of the United States Department of Agriculture responsibility to develop a germplasm program that would monitor, conserve and increase the utilization of animal genetic resources in the country. Prior to 1999, research focused on genetic differences at the molecular level and the maintenance of animal populations. In October 1999, ARS determined that an Animal Germplasm repository would be located at the National Seed Storage Laboratory in Fort Collins, Colorado. At this centre, germplasm is to be cryopreserved and a national information system is being developed. Presently, infrastructure is being put in place to collect and store germplasm and tissues from livestock species.
At a November 1999 conference sponsored in part by the ARS, national species research needs were identified that speak to the need to further develop and utilize a national germplasm program. These include:
The identification of these research needs assists the NAGP in establishing research priorities and programs. Currently, NAGP is developing a system to transport boar semen from various sites across the country to its repository at Fort Collins. In addition, the NAGP has negotiated an agreement with the national dairy industry so that it will receive a semen sample from every tenth bull drawn in the country. These are proactive first steps in developing a national inventory.
At this time the status of the program is as follows:
Repository Capacity: As with the USDA plant germplasm program, the central facility in Fort Collins will develop linkages with various satellite repositories across the country. These satellite repositories are required for reasons of security and in order to ensure access to the germplasm by the agricultural industry. Currently, capacity at Fort Collins is not an issue.
Status of the Nation’s Resource: In conjunction with the American
Livestock Breed Conservancy, NAGP is surveying at the national level, breed
population, performance levels and population structure. This information will
establish a baseline for use in identifying breeds that are or may be approaching
"at risk" status. This information will be included in the country’s
report to the FAO.
Inventories of Canadian Farm Animal Genetic Biodiversity Back to top
Canada currently has four specific programs in which farm animal genetic information is inventoried. First, the Canadian Livestock Records Corporation maintains pedigree information tracing the lineage of animals. While this information is of value for certain commercial purposes, it does not add to our knowledge with respect to the presence or conservation of specific traits, which may be of value in the future, nor does it provide access to genetic material for genome studies.
The second program involves maintaining records of performance. These ROP programs, while important in improving certain specific performance traits, do not have any mechanism in place to maintain a record of traits that Canadian agriculture ought to maintain for future use. In fact, the ROP programs serve to concentrate our genetic pool on a few top performing animals and serve as a negative pressure against livestock animal genetic diversity.
The third program relates to the work of Rare Breeds Canada. While this organization is relatively small, it is clear that its programs are in direct support of the conservation of livestock genetic material. Their mandate reads in part as follows4:
As discussed in the next section of this report, Canada has an opportunity to focus its effort in ex situ methods of conservation rather than the more expensive and more difficult to achieve in situ methods which involve the day to day maintenance of herds and flocks. Thus, while Rare Breeds Canada has a valuable contribution to make, Canada’s main efforts cannot be founded upon the work of individuals who for various historical, cultural or esthetic reasons, rather than sound, and internationally coordinated, genetic sampling and maintenance, wish to maintain a herd or flock of a specific species. Breeding programs for these species often focus on show characteristics rather than those which may be of value to agriculture in the future and do not maintain a truly genetic base. However, in spite of these shortcomings, such efforts should be encouraged as these stocks may also carry other traits that could be of importance in the future.
Finally, there is the work of Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada’s Dr. J. N. B. Shrestha. Dr Shrestha has developed a program for the publication of breeds by species resident in Canada. The species covered include swine, horses, poultry, sheep and goats. Currently, the publications listing breeds by species are out of date. Dr. Shrestha indicates that for $16,000 Cdn. updates for all species could be developed. The updated versions, when compared to earlier work will provide excellent evidence regarding the loss of genetic material in Canada’s livestock population. It is also important to note that for most breeders’ entries, Dr. Shrestha has included a section entitled "Merits". In this section, he provides specific information on the ‘special’ characteristics of a breeder’s animals. This is the only attempt that could be found where specific trait information (not necessarily performance traits) is catalogued.
It is to be noted that the Canadian Farm Animal Genetic Resources Foundation
has, with some considerable effectiveness, raised consciousness of the issue
of the reduced genetic base and is definitely committed to the conservation
of farm animal genetic resources (see appendix 1).
International Benefits Available to Canada: Back to top
The conservation of Animal Genetic Resources provides several benefits for countries throughout the world. First and most importantly, it provides for future opportunities to meet changing market demands. Secondly, it provides insurance against future changes in production circumstances (i.e. introduction of disease, environmental change). For example, one prominent Canadian researcher has shown highly selected lines to have15, or fewer, genes for antibody production while outbred lines will be likely to have more than 100! Thus it is of obvious importance to conserve, rather than irretrievably lose this gene breadth in short-term selection and consolidation. Further, at the recent Saskatoon meeting a representative of a major pig-breeding firm stated that they can no longer find pure lines. In private conversation, there are Holstein breeders in Canada who recognize that they now have only limited genetic maneuverability. In addition, the conservation of genetic resources ensures opportunities for better genomic research and industry improvement: without doubt, the range of gene expression changes across lines and breeds will be a resource essential in furthering genomic understanding.
Of lesser importance to Canada, but of significant importance in the developing world, certain breeds of animals have both a socio-economic value and a cultural-historical (i.e. Canadian cattle, Newfoundland pony) value. Finally, livestock have an intrinsic ecological value in that they exist within an ecosystem and contribute to and take from their surroundings.
Techniques for conservation of animal genetic resources are generally divided into in situ, i.e. the maintenance of the actual animals of breeds and lines, and ex situ. Ex situ techniques can be further divided, into cryoconservation of genetic material, which includes haploid cells (semen, oocytes), diploid cells (in vivo and in vitro embryos, somatic cells) and DNA, and ex situ live, i.e. the maintenance of live animals of a breed outside its production system (e.g. herds kept in natural protected areas, in experimental and show farms, and in zoos) 5.
The benefits noted above can be achieved to varying degrees using in situ and ex situ techniques. However, while in situ techniques can be used to provide all types of benefit, ex situ techniques only impact upon the first three. The ex situ live methods (herds kept in natural protected areas, in experimental and show farms, in zoos) excludes present socio-economic value, because in this conservation strategy, the breed is removed from its socio-economic context. For the same reason, cultural and ecological benefits cannot be effectively pursued. Cryoconservation is only an option, when socio-economic, cultural-historical and ecological values are not the goal..
As the latter three values are considered of secondary importance in farm animals in Canada, we have the opportunity to pursue the conservation of animal genetic resources with a greater emphasis on the use of ex situ techniques such as cryopreservation. This could therefore form the basis of our Canadian conservation strategy. While the use of in situ live techniques may be of value in certain circumstances involving socio-economic, cultural-historical, and ecological value, Canada should focus its attention on ex situ techniques involving semen, oocytes, embryos, and in light of recent advances in molecular biology techniques, somatic cells and DNA.
In March 2001, countries including Canada were invited by the FAO to produce and submit government endorsed Country Reports. The objectives of the County Reports, and therefore the First Report on the State of the World’s Animal Genetic Resources are:
The key outcomes that are being sought through the preparation of Country Reports are:
The preparation of such reports by countries throughout the world can be of great significance to Canada and it’s livestock industry. First, Canada’s report will likely identify a number of gaps in it’s current strategy (if a strategy exists) and should provide valuable information regarding potential requirements for livestock animal germplasm and for the necessity of in situ herds and flocks as insurance against disease, changing consumer demand and so on. Secondly, the reports from various countries will be of assistance in identifying where required germplasm exists and should it be determined appropriate to obtain such germplasm, how to proceed.
In the area of international co-operation, it is clear that these reports will
identify opportunities in which countries will be able to assist each other
either on a case by case basis or through the identification of a mechanism
for ongoing co-operation. For example, in mid-November, a meeting of authors
for the Canadian and United States reports was held in Fort Collins, Colorado.
At that meeting, it became obvious that opportunities exist for Canada-United
States co-operation if a Canadian national germplasm program is developed. For
example, for reasons of security, it would be appropriate for Canadian and United
States germplasm to be stored at more than one central germplasm bank. Currently,
the United States germplasm program is working on developing methodologies for
the transport of boar semen over long distance. The results of such work would
be of great assistance in developing a swine germplasm storage program in Canada.
Canada’s Report Back to top
As a strategic framework, Canada’s report will make several significant and direct contributions to efforts to achieve genetically sustainable agriculture including the:
Technologies7: Back to top
As noted above, the U.S. program is focused on germplasm conservation by way
of cryopreservation of semen, oocytes and embryos. This approach is based on
technological advances during the past fifty years and there are still difficulties
to be overcome to achieve universal and effective application. The foregoing
approach is however not now at the forefront of techniques emerging in biotechnology.
As a result of consultation with and advice from a number of leading molecular
biologists/biotechnologists across Canada, it is clear that there should also
be serious consideration of both cryopreservation of somatic cells to be used
in cloning and to the isolation and preservation of DNA. The former requires
substantial dedicated research for widespread success but could achieve conservation
of true populations without having to sustain huge herds and flocks. Conserved
DNA would be a very real genomics resource when mining for gene expression and
control. Isolation and preservation of DNA are technically easy and relatively
inexpensive. In addition, it is important to point out that in situ techniques
are susceptible to disease outbreaks. The use of cryopreservation provides significant
protection against this type of occurrence.
Recommendations Back to top
As a result of this review, the Foundation finds itself in a position to make the following recommendations to Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada.
Conclusion Back to top
Canada is currently utilizing its livestock animal genetic resources to the benefit of Canadian agriculture and therefore the Canadian economy. If it is to be prepared for changes in consumer demand, changes in the environment, and changes in disease status, it will need to develop and implement a comprehensive genetic conservation action plan in order to have the genetic pool to allow adaptability. In addition to planning and prior to the completion of the plan, Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada ought to initiate a National Animal Germplasm program in order to best implement the steps necessary to insure our livestock genetic resource. In addition to providing a repository for Canadian animal genetics, and as well as providing leadership and co-ordination to governments and industry conservancy activities, the staff of this program should be directed to provide support to a champion and committee of experts that will specifically deal with conservancy and genomics programs.
As well, Canada through its Country Report and through the development of a conservancy action plan is in a position to provide international leadership and assistance to developing countries as they work toward conservation goals.
Finally, there continues to exist a need to rectify a severe imbalance between
livestock and plant research funded by Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada. Research
directed towards improving the status of genetic conservation should be given
high priority in this process.
References Back to top
CANADIAN FARM ANIMAL GENETIC RESOURCES FOUNDATION
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