What is genetic improvement of animals and why is it important?
Animal breeding plays a crucial role in the European food supply chain, balancing efficiency, availability and minimal environmental load. Farm animal breeding aims to support more sustainable livestock production by selecting for traits such as longevity of animals, robustness, efficiency, environmental impact, animal health, and animal welfare while addressing the key issues of food safety and public health, product quality and preserving genetic diversity, etc.
As an example, the genetic improvement of pigs, poultry and fish over the past 30 years has (together with animal nutrition science) allowed for a significant improvement of the feed conversion ratio, without affecting animal welfare. Farm animals have effectively become more efficient in the conversion of feed into animal product, meaning farmers have needed to use less feed for their herd to obtain the same, or even better results. This means a financial gain for the farmer, but it also has an environmental advantage due to less manure production and therefore less nitrogen excretion.
Less need for feed is considered as an efficient use of resources, a criteria that forms an integral part of sustainability. As our increasingly globalised market requires breeders to supply everywhere for any kind of farming, more efficient animal breeding stock will help to meet the growing demand for all livestock products. Responsible breeders aim to meet to this demand in as balanced a way as possible, selecting animals that can produce in an economically viable way whilst taking care of the animals and making efficient use of feed and other resources that are required for good husbandry.