Expert Consultation on FAO Programmes for the Preservation of Animal Genetic Resources
Institutional, legal and financial
The Expert Consultation noted that the 10th Committee on Agriculture (COAG) had examined the rationale and the strategies for the preservation of animal genetic resources (AGR) and that the Report of the COAG to the 95th Council included the following items:
- in the interests of economics, science and human heritage, a programme of preservation and improved use of animal genetic resources is fully justified. (Para. 123).
- urged FAO to expand the programme of animal genetic resource preservation and improved use as a matter of urgency, in order to stem the current loss of indigenous breeds of animals. The Committee recognized that this situation is becoming critical especially in some developing countries. (Para. 126)
- supported the wish of those countries with national programmes to link them to the global programmes. (Para. 129)
- recognized that animal genetic resources are a part of the larger field of biological diversity and encouraged FAO to continue its close liaison and, where appropriate, it's collaboration with other organizations, both inter-governmental and NGOs, which are active in this field, with the aim of developing a unified and comprehensive approach to this subject. (Para. 138)
The Expert Consultation adopted the following definitions:
- Animal Genetic Resources (AGR) includes all species, breeds and strains of animals particularly those of economic, scientific and cultural interest to mankind for agriculture either at present or in the future.
- Conservation of Animal Genetic Resources incorporates both preservation and sustainable use.
The Expert Consultation reviewed the current activities and plans for action by FAO, national institutions and NGOs and noted with appreciation that FAO in cooperation with UNEP and other organizations has promoted the development of practicable methodologies for characterization of animal populations, identification of endangered animal breeds, cryopreservation of semen and embryos, the establishment of the EAAP/FAO Global Animal Genetic Data Bank in Hannover, the Regional Animal Gene Banks in Africa, Asia and Latin America and has supported breeding programmes and other activities to promote sustainable utilization of animal genetic resources.
The Expert Consultation recommended that governments should establish as a matter of urgency, where it does not already exist, an appropriate national infrastructure for animal genetic resources, which is capable of providing administrative, technical, financial and organizational support for a national programme and also serve as a link with regional and global programmes on animal genetic resources. The Expert Consultation recognised that, in this regard, many countries will need technical, financial, legislative and training assistance in starting and operating the recommended national programmes.
The Expert Consultation. recommended that regional cooperation among countries be established to facilitate effective action. The cooperating countries should aim at developing self-sustaining regional organizational structures with support from member governments.
Accepting the task given to it by COAG when reviewing the FAO Animal Genetic Resources Programme, the Expert Consultation examined the many technical, legal, financial and institutional aspects of a global programme for animal genetic resources. Recognising that there are important differences in the biology, technology, methodology and social and economic orientation between animal and plant genetic resources and acknowledging that in most national genetic resource programmes, the staff, institutions and programmes for animals and plants are organized separately though sometimes within the same government department, recommended that FAO should establish an international undertaking on animal genetic resources to promote and coordinate international cooperation for conservation and sustainable use of AGR.
The Expert Consultation also recommended that FAO establish an intergovernmental commission on animal genetic resources for the purpose of developing and harmonizing policies and programmes, monitoring provisions of international undertaking and coordinating implementation of AGR action programmes in liaison with other intergovernmental organizations as well as national and international NGOs.
Recognising that those issues which may eventually require legal conventions, for example ownership, access and rights are specific to animals and clearly different from those affecting plants, the Expert Consultation recommended that animal genetic resources should not be incorporated into the FAO Undertaking on Plant Genetic Resources, and further recommended that the proposed intergovernmental commission on animal genetic resources should deal with such legal issues, bearing in mind the desirability of developing the undertaking into a legal protocol, to fit into the overall framework of the expected international convention on biodiversity.
The Expert Consultation endorsed the view of the Council that the FAO programme has a sound technical base, is organized effectively and should be expanded and further developed into a global programme as proposed by the COAG. The Expert Consultation noted the statement of the Council that lack of funding should not be the cause of delay in implementation nor lessen the impetus already achieved. Recognising that the expansion of the current FAO activities into a global programme as recommended by the COAG and endorsed by the Council will require more funding than is reasonable to expect from the FAO Regular Programme, the Expert Consultation therefore recommended the establishment of an international fund for animal genetic resources.
Recognising that the animal genetic resources programme requires time and continuity to achieve results, the Expert Consultation urged governments and NGOs donating to the international fund for animal genetic resources to ensure sustained funding over a period of at least 5 years so that the global programme may be launched with the confidence that it will be effective for the required long term.
Recognising the growing international concern over the loss of biodiversity and realising that the UN is planning a Conference in 1992 on the Environment and Development, the Expert Consultation recommended that FAO and UNEP continue their successful association in animal genetic resources programmes, including the AGRI newsletter, with recognition that animal genetic resources are a distinct class of biodiversity which is being threatened; they also recommended that FAO and UNEP include animal genetic resources with the other genetic resources essential to agriculture, forestry and fisheries in the protocols on legal, financial and programme issues expected from the UN Conference in 1992.
Recognising the mutual benefits that would arise from cooperation between IUCN and other wildlife oriented NGOs in the field of the conservation of wild animal genetic resources, the EC recommended that a working liaison be established between FAO and these organizations so as to develop policies and techniques for the long term preservation of wild animal germ plasm in FAO supported facilities.
The Expert Consultation recommended that FAO continue to pay attention to the rapid developments in biotechnology in order to use new techniques for the preservation of animal genetic diversity.
Besides conventional freeze-storage of semen and embryos the following new techniques should be adopted where appropriate:
- vitrification as a simple, cheap and effective method for cryoconservation of embryos and oocytes;
- recovery of sperm and immature oocytes from animals at the end of their lives with subsequent in-vitro maturation, fertilization and culture of zygotes.
- collection, extraction and storage of body tissues, blood samples, specific chromosomes or pieces of chromosomes and of DNA for possible later use.
Live animal preservation
Information presented to the Expert Consultation indicated the urgency with which action is required, particularly in the identification of genetically distinguished populations of animals, their sizes and breeding practices, which may rapidly alter their composition.The Expert Consultation recognised that there is no single method of preservation which is optimal for all situations. It recommended that diverse methods are used wherever possible to ensure that such populations are not reliant on a single method. It also recommended that evaluation of unique populations be carried out where possible, and conservation of such populations, in either live conservation units and in cryogenic stores is urgently carried out.
The Expert Consultation recognised that live animal and cryogenic preservation systems each have benefits. These should not be used as an argument against either method and the Expert Consultation recommended a strategy combining live conservation populations along with the cryogenic stores to: enable evaluation of genetically distinguished populations; for education and teaching; for public interest and tourism; and to enable the population to evolve against a background of changing environmental conditions and for utility in diverse situations.
The Expert Consultation recommended that where live preservation systems are used efforts be made to replicate reserves wherever possible, in similar environmental locations.
The Expert Consultation acknowledged the need for financial support to some live breed preservation schemes and suggests that marginal cost support schemes are adopted wherever possible since they will benefit the rural farming community and the environment in which the breed is normally kept.
The Expert Consultation recognised the usefulness of institutional public and private farms for the evaluation of populations and breeds, to provide donors for cryogenic storage, and for the conservation and utilisation as live populations while maintaining their unique characteristics.
The Expert Consultation recommended that distinct live animal populations under selection or those undergoing rapid change due to environmental, management or disease change, should be regularly sampled for cryogenic storage at suitable intervals.
The Expert Consultation welcomed the reported intentions of NGO's to create a new international federation to coordinate their activities including the circulation of appropriate information on practical management, husbandry, breeding and mating programmes of conservation stocks to its members.
World watch list
The Expert Consultation recommended that FAO continue to develop and operate with EAAP the Global Animal Genetic Data Bank and that the EAAP/FAO Working Group now give major attention to the problems of utilizing the banked information, the extraction of this information, the audiences to which it might be released and the conditions of such release. It recognized that effective dissemination of information is crucial to meaningful application and utilization of the bank.
The Expert Consultation recommended that FAO continue to develop, in cooperation with the Global Animal Genetic Data Bank procedures for preparing a “World Watch List” of endangered breeds, from data obtained for and stored in the bank, as an early warning system for breed conservation work by FAO and member nations. A pilot scheme for such a World Watch List modelled after the IUCN Red Data Books should be developed in the first instance.
The Expert Consultation recomended that FAO and member nations continue to pursue vigorously the description and assessment of animal genetic resources on a global basis including both passport and population size. Breed conservation cannot operate effectively in the absence of such information. Particular attention should be given to the identification of “breeds” among indigenous stocks that heretofore might have been characterized only as “nondescript”. Particular attention should also be given to often neglected species that may be very important to their local habitats and human populations; camelid, nonruminant and poultry species especially need further study and recording. As part of this work, there is need for further refinement of methods and methodology in measuring and describing animal genetic resources for example, standardized genetic nomenclature as prepared by COGNOSAG for sheep and goats would assist in the description and characterization of other species.
The Expert Consultation that FAO and member nations to reassess changes in animal genetic resources populations at regular intervals in each area of the world, and thus monitor changes in the risk status; this information should be networked with the global animal genetic data bank and published periodically through a World Watch List.
The following recommendation was received by FAO from the World Poultry Science Association and was accepted and endorsed by the Expert Consultation.
- Whereas the great majority of economically important poultry stocks are now in the hands of a few multinational corporations and
- Whereas under these circumstances, economic concerns will override conservation efforts.
- Whereas governments are tending to opt out of breeding research and flock development and
- Whereas poultry gene conservation by cryogenic means is not currently practicable
Be it Resolved that the World's Poultry Science Association (W.P.S.A.) urge the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) to vigorously pursue the preservation of poultry genetic resources, by means of:
bringing to the attention of member governments the urgent need to establish national gene pools;
promoting research into cryogenics or other means of germplasm preservation as an alternative to maintain live birds;
coordinating information on the current state of poultry genetic stocks available in the world;
provide support to selected private individuals and institutions, who are in a position to maintain key stocks in adequate numbers.
And be it further resolved that the W.P.S.A. will actively assist FAO in these initiatives in any way possible.”
Technical and organizational
The following recommendations were adopted by the Expert Consultation. They concern technical and organizational aspects of the FAO programme which were raised during the discussion on animal genetic resources by the Committee on Agriculture earlier in 1989. These matters were referred to the Workshop at the Global Animal Genetic Data Bank in Hannover in June 1989. Participants at this Workshop included the 7 Coordinators of the Regional Animal Gene Banks from Africa, Asia and Latin America, national specialists from the National Bureaux of Animal Breeding Genetic Resources in China and India and other specialists from developed countries. The list of participants at this Workshop is given in Appendix 5.
Surveys, genetic classification, risk assessment, census data and World Watch List
The Workshop recommended that the methods for surveying indigenous populations should be developed first by the Global Animal Genetic Data Bank thus providing a standard format for populations data and the simplified animal descriptors for the genetic characterisations; the drafts should then be studied by the Regional Animal Gene Bank Coordinators, who will consult the national coordinators. The final agreed system will then be tested for suitability for use in the Hannover Centre and suitable software developed in Hannover and in the PC's to be used in the Regional Animal Gene Banks.
World Watch List
The Workshop recommended that the World Watch List should be developed in the Hannover Centre and felt that the data flow from cooperating countries will be sufficient to make it meaningful in the first instance. Modifications can be made on the basis of experience. The frequency of publication is left open at this stage.
The Workshop recommended that standard levels of risk assessement should be developed before the World Watch List is published and that these standards should be worked out after having taken account of the classes of risk assessment used by specialists in other species.
Regional Consultative Groups
The Workshop recommended that for many technical aspects of assessing national information on endangered breeds and the needed techniques for preserving them, it would be appropriate to establish informal consultative groups in each region, consisting of the Regional Animal Gene Bank coordinator, the national coordinators and any other specialists able to contribute expertese.
Animal Health, Disease Assessment, Controls, Tests and Records; Movement of Germplasm Within the Region
In view of national differences in disease control regulations, the Workshop recommended that the Regional Consultative Group should be responsible for establishing any special procedures needed. It was noted with satisfaction, that, with the exception of the Disease
Free Zone of Central America, no host country has felt that there are insurmountable problems in the movement and storage of germplasm within the region to and from the designated centres.
Use of mobile teams of experts to serve countries in assessing endangered breed status and in the collection and handling of semen and embryos
The Workshop recognised the apparent attractions of using external specialists for these tasks, but felt that in practice it will be more effective and cheaper to train nationals to undertake the work. The Workshop therefore recommended that priority be given to the organization of regional training courses in English, French and Spanish as appropriate. The Workshop also recommended that once a national team has been successfully trained and has gained experience in their own country, then they should be made available on TCDC principles to another country in the region to work alongside and train nationals as they start their programme. This approach will provide continuing education and on-the-job training in the home country for nationals already having been through the training course. The Workshop noted that both Brasil and China have developed simple field freezing techniques for embryos and recommended that these should be included in the Operating Manual.
Standards for genetic selection and evaluation of donor animals
The Workshop feld that this point is important and recommended that special attention be given to it in the training programmes. It is felt to be particularly important to have full documentation of the relatives (especially parents) of donor animals.
The Workshop recommended that close liaison should he developed between the Regional Animal Gene Banks and those organizations wishing to store semen and embryos from wild species. It recommended that such organizations should also be encouraged to collect germplasm not only from truly wild animals, but also of species related to domestic animals, since their DNA may be of value in domestic animal programmes in decades to come. The Workshop emphasized that special attention will be needed for the animal health controls of wild animal germplasm stored in Regional Animal Gene Banks. The Workshop also recommended that wild animal species now being farmed or ranched (such as deer), should be included in the programme.
The Workshop recommended that FAO maintain very close contact with research in the biotechnology of animal breeding, genetics and animal reproduction in view of the great impact that new discoveries may have upon the operation of Regional Animal Gene Banks. The Workshop also recommended that the Hannover Centre system should be designed to include future data on transgenic domestic animals so that there may be one global reference centre for the genetic descriptors of these new genomes.
Live Animal Preservation
The Workshop recommended that wherever possible live animals should also be preserved as a supplement to the cryogenic storage of germplasm. It was recognised that the problems of organizing such programmes are great and not well understood in developing countries and recommended that FAO continue with its plan to provide a Guidance Manual on live animal preservation as soon as possible.
The Workshop placed great emphasis finally upon the importance of comprehensive documentation as part of the combined programme of Regional Animal Gene Banks and the Hannover Global Animal Genetic Data Bank. The Workshop recommended the strenuous efforts be made and that sufficient funding be provided at the start of this programme to ensure that compatible, flexible and open-ended systems be developed so that regions and countries do not become isolated from each others' information systems.
The Workshop recommended that the Dictionary of Breed Types of Domestic Livestock by Mason, be provided to each Regional Centre and also to participating countries since it will permit uniform nomenclature. The Workshop also recommended that FAO should issue specifications on the types of PC to be used in the Regional Animal Gene Banks to most advantage. The problems arising from the use of different languages were discussed, including the experiences arising with the software experts from China whose data base is in Chinese characters. Recommendations on languages for input, storage and output options should be made by the EAAP/FAO Working Group after appropriate study. The Workshop also recognised the need already experienced at the Hannover Centre of having a competent geneticist working with data to ensure its plausibility as well as checks on its validity and integrity. The Workshop supported the continued study by the Hannover Centre of the use of Data Base Management Software.