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Heritage farmanimals needto be protected

It can’t hold a candle to the news that the Food and Drug Administration is moving closer to allowing meat from cloned animals to enter the food supply, but it may have a more profound impact on agriculture.

A U.N. agency recently reported that livestock breeds and genetic diversity is disappearing at an alarmingly fast rate. The U.N. report found that 20 percent of cattle, hog, horse, poultry and goat breeds are in danger of extinction. The report found that 190 breeds have already disappeared in a decade-and-a-half and 1,500 more are believed to be at risk.

Nearly as disconcerting is the fact that the genetic pool that produces our top-milking producing breeds is becoming shallower.

While the FDA will base its decision on meat from cloned animals based on human health issues — Congress and the world community should be looking at protecting the struggling breeds for the good of future generations.

Some breeds have become too inefficient to have a place in today’s highly efficient agriculture. While their production can’t match others, the genetics contained in their bloodlines remain valuable. We cannot expect private enterprise to protect these species. The government can work hand-in-hand with volunteers and agribusiness to protect the animals.

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It is clearly evident that cloned animals and that patented animals whose rights are owned by a private company raises moral issues that have yet to be properly discussed in a public setting. Protecting animal breeds from extinction is also a moral issue. Avoiding the issue isn’t a good option.

Especially during these times, when consumers want more information and more say in how their food is produced.

Agribusinesses have already responded based on self-interest. Smithfield Foods, for example, recently agreed to stop using farrowing crates in their hog production system and publicly committed themselves to help their contracted growers eventually do the same. The expense of such a move will run into the millions of dollars, but Smithfield is betting that consumer response will more than offset the cost. Kentucky Fried Chicken and a variety of egg producers have changed production practices under pressure from consumers.

Protecting breeds falls under a different umbrella.

In this age when animal genetics can be manipulated in a test tube to protect human health it would be a shame if we allowed these heritage breeds to be extinct. It needn’t happen and can be prevented through public-private partnerships in the United States and worldwide.

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