About 20 percent of farm-animal breeds* are endangered, says FAO

Word association time: What comes to mind when you think “endangered animals”? Odd-looking tropical frogs and obscure birds with funny names? Time to adjust your thinking: The U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization estimates that one in five breeds of farm animal are in danger of extinction. Of more than 7,600 breeds that the FAO has in its farm-animal database, 190 have kicked the bucket in the last 15 years — about one breed a month. The globalization of livestock production is the “biggest single factor” impacting farm-animal biodiversity, says the FAO, as global agriculture focuses heavily on specialized, über-productive livestock. Indeed, a mere 14 species provide 90 percent of the human food supply from animals. FAO’s José Esquinas-Alcázar is stressing the importance of maintaining animal genetic diversity, which he says will “allow future generations to select stocks or develop new breeds to cope with emerging issues, such as climate change, diseases, and changing socioeconomic factors.” Foresight — what a strange concept.

*[Correction, 19 Dec 2006: This summary originally incorrectly referred to endangered “species” of farm animal; it is instead “breeds” that are endangered.]