Genetic approaches and technologies for improving the sustainability of livestock production


  • Paper presented to SCI Conference: Agriculture, Food Production and Market Price—Do We Have a Sustainable Food Chain?, 5 November 2002


Livestock production industries worldwide face considerable conflicting challenges and pressures. In developed countries the challenge is to remain sustainable and competitive in the face of declining prices and increasing costs, competition and public pressures. In developing countries the strong increase in demand for livestock products must be met in circumstances where infrastructure is often minimal, there are limitations on inputs and the environment places demands on management and on the adaptive fitness of the livestock. In both situations, solutions to these problems must be sustainable and appropriate, yet be technically feasible, cost-effective and publicly acceptable. This paper summarises the impact of two technologies that will make considerable contributions to sustainable livestock production systems, namely information technology and genetic technologies that utilise naturally occurring genetic variation. Genetic technologies are inherently sustainable owing to the permanent and cumulative nature of genetic change, and range from simple to sophisticated. They include breed choice, within-breed selection and the use of genetic markers linked to gene variants conferring favourable attributes. Breeding goals include increased output, where required, enhanced product quality and increased disease resistance. These goals are illustrated by examples for the hill sheep and pig sectors in the UK and by challenges facing animal health in developing countries. Central to all examples is the gathering, management and interpretation of information, ie information technology, which enables rational genetic and management decisions to be made. Additionally, in all sustainable livestock production systems the maintenance and utilisation of biodiversity will help manage the risks of today as well as the challenges of the future. Copyright © 2004 Society of Chemical Industry