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Experts sound alarm bells over animal species

The Rhaetian Grey are mountain cattle valued for their high meat quality

The Swiss resort of Interlaken hosts two separate meetings of experts and farmers over the next few days to discuss ways of preserving endangered animal species.

The United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) and non-governmental groups are at loggerheads over intellectual property rights of animal breeds and their genes.

The NGO Swissaid says the preservation of biodiversity is key for the survival of 830 million farmers, breeders and nomads worldwide.

“The industrialisation of the agricultural sector over the decades is threatening the valuable gene pool of animals and cultural variety,” a statement said.

It’s widely believed that about 1,000 breeds have disappeared in the last century and that two species of livestock die out worldwide every week.

The farmers have called on the FAO meeting, to begin on Monday, to take their demands seriously.

UN experts from more than 120 countries are due to discuss a global plan of action aimed at promoting biodiversity among livestock breeds.

Rare species

In a related development, the Swiss Pro Specie Rara foundation – an association for the protection of rare breeds of plants and animals is celebrating its 25th anniversary this weekend in the Swiss capital, Bern.

“It took us a while but we now have about 900 varieties of vegetable and 1,800 different species of fruit, as well as 26 special animal breeds,” Béla Bartha of Pro Specie Rara told swissinfo.

The products taste differently and are used for specific, often local dishes, he added.

Bartha highlights the Parli potato which is a key ingredient to prepare maluns, a special dish known in southeastern Switzerland, as well as the Raetian Grey cattle. This breed is known among experts for its high quality meat and its ability to adapt to mountainous environments.


The Pro Specie Rara has won the respect of the Federal Agriculture Office over the years. Spokesman Jürg Jordi points out that biodiversity is a key element in tackling the challenges of climate change, animal diseases and epidemics.

“The diversity of plants and agricultural domestic animals is important to ensure there is enough food in Switzerland, ” he said.

For its part, Pro Specie Rara says it wants to step up its campaign to promote special species among retailers and consumers.

“We want to become better known in remote alpine regions where the agriculture sector is fighting hard for survival,” Bartha said.

swissinfo based on an article in German by Renat Künzi

The FAO estimates that about three-quarters of the genetic diversity of agricultural crops have been lost over the past century.

Out of 6,300 animal breeds, 1,350 are endangered or already extinct.

More than 840 million people remain hungry around the world.

Global efforts have so far been insufficient to reach the Millennium Development goal of reducing the number of hungry by half by 2015.

Pro Specie Rara was created in 1982 to promote the interests of rare plants and animals.

The foundation ensures the preservation of 1,800 species of fruit, 900 crops and 450 varieties of berries as well as 26 original or indigenous breeds of Swiss agricultural domestic animals.

About 2,000 farmers and breeders as well as 6,000 supporters fund pro Specie Rara.

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SWI - a branch of Swiss Broadcasting Corporation SRG SSR