Cape Town, Republic of South Africa,
1. The Committee on Commodity Problems (CCP) made a preliminary review of the present state of biotechnology developments and their possible impact on trade in agricultural products at its 61st session of February 1997 (Document CCP:97/17). There was widespread agreement in the Committee on the need for the IGGs to undertake studies assessing the current and future impact of biotechnological developments on the commodities under their mandate. A specific request was also made to extend the future work on the subject beyond crops to cover livestock and livestock products.
2. This report, therefore, summarises the biotechnology developments in the livestock and meat sectors and makes an initial attempt to assess their potential impacts on the competitiveness and trading patterns of the products concerned. The study is based on a review of the nature of patents for basic animal biotechnological procedures and manipulations, for methods of improving animal productivity and facilitating animal reproduction, and for new veterinary capabilities and other purposes1, as well as a general review of literature on the subject.
3. The livestock and meat sectors account for a substantial part of the value of global agricultural production (more than half in developed countries and a quarter in developing countries). Moreover, global output of livestock products has been increasing faster than that of other sectors of agriculture, a trend expected to continue for some time into the future. The contribution of improvements in animal productivity to growth in meat output has been nearly three times greater than that of increased livestock numbers. For the future this trend will have to continue in order to meet the demand over the next 15-20 years.
4. Most of the technological developments to date have led to improved efficiency through increases in animal productivity per unit of input and/or time and to improvements in the quality of the derived products as well as in animal health. Applications enhancing the natural reproductive processes of animals so as to improve offspring selection carrying the desired characteristics were the first to be introduced, and some, such as artificial insemination, have been around for many decades. More recently, molecular genetics and recombinant DNA (deoxyribonucleic acid) techniques have been applied to improve traditional dam and sire selection procedures. Some of these more advanced techniques are also being employed to develop new inputs into livestock production processes in the form of veterinary products and/or improved feeds to increase animal productivity. Indeed, use of such inputs is widespread and is likely to be the most important means of distributing the new technologies for some time to come2. Similar techniques have also been used in the cloning of animals, which when coupled with selection procedures may prove to be a useful method of animal genetic improvement. However, the procedures of animal cloning itself need to be significantly improved, before they can be gainfully employed. It should be noted that some of these new techniques have proved to be controversial as they raise health and ethical concerns and are likely to generate debate also in the future.
5. Most of the technologies being employed for improving the reproductive processes of animals do not directly deal with manipulation at the cell level, as does modern biotechnology. Techniques of artificial insemination (AI), embryo transfer and production (ET) and embryo cryopreservation, have been the traditional means of speeding up the reproduction process with the aim of facilitating the breeding of those animals carrying the characteristics that are of value to livestock producers.
6. AI is being used especially in dairy
herds3 in both developed and developing
countries, but mostly in the former. Nevertheless AI is becoming important
in many developing countries to meet the needs of intensive peri-urban dairying
systems. ET allows the recovery, storing and implanting of embryos so that
the reproductive rate of a female animal, and thus average rates of genetic
gain, can be increased. Recent developments in the ET techniques permit almost
all of the reproductive processes to take place in the laboratory. But it
must be noted that achieving economically viable success rates is still a
7. The patent search, completed early 1998, yielded inventions that were, in general, improvements in the current processes for AI and for cloning of embryonic cells. This list may well expand as the full implications of the cloning of adult transgenic animals enter agricultural research practice more widely.