Pittsboro, NC [May 8, 2015] – The first annual National Heritage Breeds Week will be held May 17-23, 2015 across the United States to raise awareness about nearly 200 endangered breeds of livestock and poultry. The event is sponsored by The Livestock Conservancy, a national nonprofit dedicated to protecting endangered farm animals from extinction. “Most people aren’t aware that many of our farm animals are in greater danger of extinction than the Giant Panda, Siberian Tiger, and the Black Rhino” said Ryan Walker, spokesperson for the Conservancy. “We want every person in America to know the current state of animal agriculture, and how important it is to preserve biodiversity."
Some notable breeds on the Conservancy’s list include Texas Longhorn cattle, Clydesdale horses, Dominique chickens, and Tennessee Fainting goats, among others. “We’ve reached a point where each year we have only a few more purebred Texas Longhorns registered than there are players on the University of Texas football roster”, said Walker. Of the couple hundred breeds on the list, 63 are classified as critically endangered and face extinction within the next few years if action isn’t taken.
Over the past century, American agriculture has gone through the most rapid consolidation in history, where only a few highly specialized breeds are now used to produce nearly all of our meat, dairy, eggs, and fiber. But the quest for the most productive animal comes at a price. “You can’t have it all”, says Walker. “When breeders focus almost exclusively on growth rate, sacrifices have to be made in areas like natural immunity, drought tolerance, easy birthing, mothering instincts, and flavor”, noting that “the stuff in the grocery store tastes nothing like it did just 50 years ago.”
History gives us plenty of examples of how vulnerable we become when we put all of our eggs in one basket. During the Irish Potato Famine, one single variety of potato, the Irish Lumper, was chosen as the preferred crop for farmers, but when potato blight struck, it destroyed nearly all of the potatoes on which the Irish had become dependent, leaving millions to starve. Without maintaining genetic diversity, the same could happen to our current food production model.
National Heritage Breeds Week aims to bring awareness of this issue to the national stage and educate the public about problems we could face down the road if changes aren’t made. The Livestock Conservancy has encouraged farmers and ranchers of heritage breeds across the country to host educational events, lectures, workshops, farm tours, and other events to give non-farmers an opportunity to learn more about where and how their food and fiber are made. “We can’t sit back and wait to see what happens”, said Walker. “Globally we’re losing one livestock breed every month, and our mistakes today will eventually catch up with us.”
To learn more about National Heritage Breeds Week and how you can get involved, visit The Livestock Conservancy’s website at LivestockConservancy.org, follow them on Facebook and Twitter, or call (919) 542-5704.
About the Livestock Conservancy:
The Livestock Conservancy is America's leading nonprofit organization working to protect nearly 200 heritage breeds of livestock and poultry from extinction. Included are donkeys, cattle, goats, horses, sheep, pigs, rabbits, chickens, ducks, geese and turkeys. Founded in 1977, The Conservancy is the pioneer organization in the U.S. working to conserve historic breeds and genetic diversity in livestock. The Livestock Conservancy’s mission is to ensure the future of agriculture through genetic conservation and the promotion of endangered breeds of livestock and poultry.
Why are domestic breed of livestock and poultry in danger of extinction?
Modern agriculture and food production favors the use of a few highly specialized breeds selected for maximum output in intensively controlled environments. Many traditional breeds do not excel under these conditions, causing their popularity to decrease and leaving them faced with extinction.
Why is genetic diversity important?
Like all ecological systems, agriculture depends on genetic diversity to adapt to an ever-changing environment. Genetic diversity in domestic animals is revealed in distinct breeds, each with different characteristics and uses.
Traditional, historic breeds retain essential attributes for survival and self-sufficiency – fertility, foraging ability, longevity, maternal instincts, ability to mate naturally, and resistance to disease and parasites. As agriculture changes, we need to be able to draw on this genetic diversity for a broad range of uses and future opportunities. Once lost, genetic diversity is gone forever.