There are calls for the federal government to commit to a national gene bank for livestock in Australia as concerns over the reduced size of purebred and native livestock in the country grow.
Rare breed farmer Katy Brown spoke at the Women in Ag forum event at Farm World at Lardner Park near Warrigal last week.
She said governments at both a state and federal level need to be proactive in keeping all kinds of livestock breeds suited to their natural environment.
"In the old days there was a myriad of livestock that were developed in rural areas [and] they suited the climate, they suited the feed, they suited the management styles," she said.
"As time went on, farms got bigger, and the demand was for a more uniform product where the product grew fast, produced a lot of value, milked well, and was commercially viable.
"As a result of that the amount of rare breeds of animals have started to disappear."
Ms Brown, who runs a free-range pig farm, a pioneer stud and runs cattle over three properties, said growing genetic resources would diversify the market and allow for more consumer choice.
In her speech, Ms Brown cited the United Nations' Food and Agricultural Organisation (FAO), which is collating data from governments worldwide to understand breeds' genetic growth better.
The last published data from the FAO collated from over 180 countries showed there were 8800 livestock breeds in the world and 38 different species, providing diverse products.
The FAO website stated that "threats to animal genetic resources need to be better identified and their potential effects better assessed," and that "establishing and sustaining effective livestock breeding programmes are still major challenges for many countries."
Ms Brown said most of the data that the FAO collated was from countries' agricultural departments, but Australia's government agricultural department did not contribute to the survey.
It was up to the Rare Breeds Trust of Australia (RBTA), a not-for-profit cooperative, to provide the data for the FAO's latest survey.
Ms Brown, the RTBA pig group coordinator, said there had "not been an appetite from government bodies" to identify genetic resources and work to identify domestic animal breeds comprehensively needs to be undertaken in the country.
"When the government of a country doesn't even know what livestock breeds exist, it's very hard to get conservation programs in place to keep them going," she said.
In 2021 a roundtable in Canberra acknowledged the need for a national gene bank or register to protect the country's livestock resources, but Ms Brown said it was currently "in limbo".
A spokesperson for the federal Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry said there were no commitment to register livestock breeds.
"The Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry does not hold a register on livestock breeds in Australia, and does not intend to establish one," a spokesperson said.
"Decisions about which livestock breeds farmers choose to operate are for farmers themselves to make.
"Breed development groups and commercial studs maintain livestock genetics and make those genetics available."
The Coalition had pledged funding to establish a gene back during the 2022 federal election campaign.
Ms Brown said the RTBA had started their own gene bank at three locations in Australia, which was funded through auctions and donations of semen
"We are trying to save the genetic material in different locations just in case there is a disaster and we are looking for donations of genetic material," she said.
She urged action on what was discussed at the 2021 roundtable.
"With climate change, there are definitely benefits between individual breeds, where some animals will adapt and cope better than other breeds," she said.
"This is important if we are going to maintain productivity and do it in a way that is commercially viable."
She also said "new breeders and new opportunities" should also be encouraged to take on rare breeds.
"For food security and diversity, heritage breeds offer a lot and are a lower input breed so they can often make do with less of what your commercial breeds need, like less food and less basic forms of shelter, and they often have very good maternal abilities," she said.
"They suit anybody who has a small property and a lifestyle where you can grow and produce your own food for your family and friends.
"In Australia, there are eight breeds of pigs and... about 25 outlets in the country where you can buy rare breeds.
She said selling meat from those rare breeds through butcher shops and other outlets would also bolster genetic diversity.
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