International Heritage Breeds Week Starts Today!

International Heritage Breeds Week Starts Today!

It is International Heritage Breeds Week and that is an exciting time for us. When we started 20 years ago our mission was to preserve heritage breeds and rare breeds by eating them, to increase their population counts and thus promote biodiversity — a mantra we learned from Slow Food and its founder Carlo Petrini.

Cows, goats, sheep, buffalo, chicken, and turkey are each a species, and each boasts different varieties, or breeds, within their species. Differentiation of livestock breeds resulted from selective breeding for human needs. Different human needs across the globe resulted in great diversity within each livestock species. Many of these breeds are at risk of disappearing.

Thanks to nature programs on television and the work of amazing thought leaders like Sir David Attenborough, the public has come to understand the importance of preserving wildlife species for the various roles each plays along the food chain and within their ecosystem. Fighting to preserve breeds of domesticated livestock has been an uphill messaging battle, but professional chefs in particular (as well as home chefs) have spearheaded awareness for this cause. Part of the initiative for chefs to promote diversity comes from selfish reasons: each breed has its own taste, flavor, and texture and a rich gastronomic culture deserves and requires diversity to be available.

While the Earth has always experienced changes and extinctions, today they are occurring at an unprecedented rate. Current estimates are that there are about 10 million species on Earth, of which only about 1.9 million have been named and cataloged. Some scientists estimate that half of all species on Earth will be wiped out within the next century.

Domesticated breeds are at risk for the very same reasons wild biodiversity is at risk, for example increased demand, intensification, degradation of natural resources, disease epidemics, and climate change. Livestock in particular is at risk for other reasons including loss of control by independent farmers and breeders who maintain older species. Corporate agriculture has shown no interest in maintaining the original stock that was the foundation of their supplies. Their strategies of cross-breeding for profit rather than the health of the animal, the weaknesses in their animal genetic resource management programs, and their climate-controlled livestock production systems are all reasons why diversity in the farm world has suffered.

Conservation efforts are necessary to preserve biodiversity and protect endangered species and their habitats. A diverse range of animal genetic resources will allow humankind to preserve its gastronomic heritage and also to cope with climate change, diseases, and limited natural resources. For instance, breeds that are tolerant to disease or adapted to drought and other extreme climatic events will be of particular importance.

Depending on the type of farm, livestock is either among the most harmful threats to biodiversity or necessary to maintain high nature value farmland. Free ranging pastured land like that of the farms we work with use a higher area of land per animal and actually exert less pressure on habitats than factory farms which take up less space. Small farms are of high biodiversity value. Rare breeds on pasture help preserve useful ecosystems and the various life forms that are part of them.

Supporting heritage breed farmers preserves biodiversity within species and in the ecosystems of farmland that is disappearing. When you support heritage breeds you are helping the world, so throughout the year, but especially on International Heritage Breeds Week, we hope you will seek out and consume the older pre-industrial breeds! You will feel good and enjoy the best tasting food around.

Thanks to: Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations for providing such useful information.

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