Diversity for Security

19 Jan 2009

Greater genetic variety and rare breeds on smaller-scale farms could address the issues of food safety and security of large-scale commercial agriculture according to some researchers and farmers at a recent conference.

Dr. Dian Patterson, a geneticist and researcher at the Nova Scotia Agriculture College, spoke of what she calls “genetic erosion” at the convention on heritage breeds and genetic diversity in livestock organized by the Organic Agriculture Centre of Canada.

Industrial agriculture relies on a very small number of available species, with just 14 breeds providing 90 per cent of human food of animal origin. The dairy industry, for examples, today uses around 95 percent Holstein cows as they are prolific milk producers and can be bred at around 15 months.

‘One of the problems with a smaller gene pool is it becomes more susceptible to disease or genetic defects that could be spread from a dairy bull to offspring,’ Patterson said.

Bev Davis, director of Rare Breeds Canada, asked farmers to re-consider different species for in light of safety and security of supply issues, and because they offer good business possibilities.

‘There’s a smarter way of going about feeding a country and allowing farmers to make a living and it’s in having a smaller, semi-locally sourced food supply,’ said Davis, who believes that raising different species on a smaller scale could change a marketing system driven by agrifood companies and grocery chains.

‘And the breeds that have been selected to do well under a commercial, high-intensity system are not necessarily the breeds that would do well under a less-intensive system,’ said Davis.

The Canadian Press

Bess Mucke

[email protected]

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