Criteria for Sustainable Livestock Breeding and Guidelines for
DEFINITION OF SUSTAINABLE ANIMAL BREEDING................................................ 4
SUSTAINABLE DEVELOPMENT.................................................................................................. 4
Precautionary principle ..................................................................................................... 5
SUSTAINABLE LIVESTOCK PRODUCTION .................................................................................. 6
Ethical norms for animal husbandry.................................................................................. 7
Biotechnology and ethics ................................................................................................... 8
Weighing the ethics .......................................................................................................... 10
SUSTAINABLE AQUACULTURE ............................................................................................... 10
Ethically acceptable fish farming..................................................................................... 11
What does modern fish farming actually imply for the fish?....................................... 11
What should fish farming be compared to? ................................................................. 12
SUSTAINABLE LIVESTOCK BREEDING..................................................................................... 12
STATUS OF LIVESTOCK BREEDING IN NORWAY.................................................... 12
LIVESTOCK PRODUCTION IN NORWAY................................................................................... 13
Animal breeding and welfare legislation ......................................................................... 14
Animal welfare ................................................................................................................. 16
Fish welfare...................................................................................................................... 19
Risk factors in salmon and trout production.................................................................... 20
Escaped farmed fish and the impact on wild populations............................................ 20
NORWEGIAN ANIMAL BREEDING............................................................................................ 21
Sustainability in animal breeding .................................................................................... 22
Risk factors....................................................................................................................... 23
SALMON BREEDING ............................................................................................................... 25
Sustainability in fish breeding.......................................................................................... 26
Genetic impact of escaped farmed fish on wild fish......................................................... 27
EXPORTING NORWEGIAN CATTLE AND PIG GENES ................................................................. 28
ACCESS AND RIGHTS TO GENETIC RESOURCES....................................................................... 28
STATUS OF NORWEGIAN ANIMAL BREEDING – A SUMMARY............................ 31
CRITERIA FOR SUSTAINABLE ANIMAL BREEDING ............................................... 32
BREEDING GUIDELINES AND REQUIREMENTS....................................................... 36
In spring 2003, the Nordic Gene Bank Farm Animals (NGH) proposed a follow up of the
“Strategy for the conservation of genetic resources in the Nordic countries 2001-2004”. It was
proposed to formulate criteria for sustainable animal breeding and guidelines for breeding
organizations. Thus, the Norwegian Gene Resource Council decided to initiate the
development of criteria for sustainable animal breeding and guidelines for breeding
organizations in Norway. To coordinate these efforts, the council appointed a steering
committee, consisting of Sverre Bjørnstad, Ingrid Olesen and Odd Vangen, and with Eivind
Mehl as secretary. The committee was authorized to develop general sustainable breeding
criteria and guidelines for breeding organizations. At the committee’s first meeting, it was
decided that Ingrid Olesen, AKVAFORSK, was to write a draft report, which was to be sent
to the animal breeding organizations for comments. Through his work on a term paper at the
Norwegian University of Life Sciences (UMB), Hans Jørgen Whist also contributed to this
report. We chose to limit the scope of the report to a thorough presentation of the general
aspects of animal breeding, and to only discuss specific issues of certain animal species when
considered necessary. Furthermore, the report is limited to discussing cattle, pigs, sheep,
goats, fur-bearing animals and salmonoids.
Ås, December 2004
Definition of sustainable animal breeding
Before being able to discuss the criteria for sustainable animal breeding, we must first define
“sustainable animal breeding”. We define this concept as animal breeding that contributes to
maintaining sustainable animal production. We will therefore first consider and define the
terms ”sustainable development” and ”sustainable animal production”.
The expression ”sustainable development” became especially widespread after the
UN-appointed World Commission on Environment and Development published its report
”Our Common Future”, also called the ”Brundtland Report”, in 1987. The report stimulated
numerous discussions on the use of the term “sustainable development”. The World
Commission defines sustainable development as ”development that meets the needs of the
present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs”.
Numerous additional definitions have been proposed in recent years.
The word sustainable is derived from the Latin word sustinere, from sub- ’from
below’ + tenere ’hold’, in other words, ‘to support from beneath’. The current use seems to
date back to 18 th century German forest science. The modern environmental movement did
not start using the term until the 1960s. Even later, the term also acquired political
connotations, e.g., through the work of the ”Brundtland Commission”. Three different uses of
the term “sustainability” illustrate how its meaning has developed.
1. Use of the term ”sustainability” in a pure physical sense for a specific resource. The
concept implies using nature as a renewable resource, not harvesting more than is
naturally produced. One thus aims to ensure that the physical resources are not
2. Use of the term ”sustainability” in a biological/physical sense. The concept is about
the same as in example 1, but due to complexity and interaction within ecosystems, it
is considered more difficult to determine the impact of resource utilization on nature.
At the same time, there is a certain tension between specific resources and the
ecosystem as a whole.
3. Use of the term ”sustainability” in a social/physical/economic sense, associated with
levels of public and individual welfare, which are to be maintained and further
The World Commission’s definition of ”sustainable development” falls into the third category
of usage mentioned above.
After its use by the Brundtland Commission, “sustainability” became a buzzword with very
positive connotations. Paradoxically, though, this was the start of a process that hollowed out
the expression, leading to the loss of its meaning. The mechanism of this process is that an
increasing number of positive goals and characteristics are linked to the term, and as a result,
the concept loses meaning with every new aspect it covers. When we have many good
intentions, it becomes important to prioritize between conflicting interests. When using
“sustainability”, it is thus important that we define the term, clarify the premises and specify
focus and priorities.
It is claimed that the precautionary principle is the most important component of the concept
This is especially important when there is a risk of considerable damage to the environment or
human health, and when the degree of such a risk is uncertain. Uncertain factors must be
given significant emphasis when making decisions that could have a substantial
environmental impact. There are several ethical justifications and considerations for the use of
the precautionary principle.
Economic and social considerations: An appropriate environmental strategy must take into
consideration such aspects as social and economic stability. Experience shows that the cost of
treating environmental pollutants is generally low when remediating large-scale pollution
events, but that costs rise significantly if the aim is to repair all environmental damage. An
ethical assessment may conclude that a certain level of harmful emissions can be accepted.
Neither the precautionary principle nor ethical norms assume a zero-risk society. It is
important that environmental policies are acceptable by the public, and that they can be
implemented without running the risk of social unrest.
Future generations: The precautionary principle implies the use of a longer time perspective
than traditional risk assessment models. All of us living today are clearly responsible for
future generations. However, this responsibility must be balanced with the interests of the
present generation. For example, the consideration of future generations would hardly suffice
to justify limitations of the basic human rights of contemporary generations.
Nature’s intrinsic value: Certain environmentalists and ecophilosophers consider nature as
such as the primary ethical subject. For them, ecosystem survival is the main issue, based on
their view that nature has an intrinsic value independent of humans’ need for clean air, food,
The report by the Brundtland Commission, Our Common Future, was based on an
anthropocentric ethical approach. The main reason for avoiding environmental damage
therein lies in securing human survival. However, the report also underlines nature’s value.
The Brundtland Commission report also assumes a commitment to future generations to avoid
compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs. Resource
management thus means managing nature in a way that enables future generations to benefit
from these resources to the same extent as their ancestors.
As a basis for political actions, the precautionary principle must be founded on a general
ethical approach that can be widely accepted by the general public. Anthropocentric ethics
should also make substantial environmental considerations, since we all depend on the same,
limited natural resources. We can therefore assume that both ecocentric and anthropocentric
ethics will de facto have concurrent interests, when we first realize that we as humans are
dependent on our natural environment.
When introducing new technology, we often experience unexpected consequences. Any
assessment of such unknown effects can only be made as an approximate judgement. In such
a case, who is to assess such imprecise, uncertain consequences? Experts are rarely the ones
to be affected the most if their predictions are wrong, and they should thus not be the only
ones to consider such issues. Often, the general public will be harder hit than the expert elites.
Those directly affected may have a different view on the acceptable level of risk than the
experts or those in position to make decisions on such issues. The minority’s views should
also not be disregarded if they will be strongly affected by the decisions.
In addition to having the right to complain afterwards, the people affected by a decision have
the moral right to hold the powers that be responsible for their actions. When it is not possible
to determine beforehand whether or not an action leads to a fair division between benefit and
risk for the public, it is important that the process leading to the action is just.
Sustainable livestock production
Thomson and Nardone (1999) discussed two different approaches to sustainable animal
production: ”resource sufficiency” and ”functional integrity”. The first assumes that necessary
production resources are available in the future, and are thus dependent on the rationalization
of inputs and production. This approach agrees more with the two first areas of usage of the
concept of sustainability (see page 4). Functional integrity assumes that important parts of a
production system (farm) are reproduced within the system over time in a way that is
dependent on previous systems. The various parts can have both ecological and social
limitations, and this approach coincides more with the third “sustainability” category
mentioned above. For example, it is said that whereas conventional agriculture rather
resembles the ”resource sufficiency” approach, also when dealing with environmental issues,
organic agriculture leans more towards the functional integrity of production systems. For
example, the organic farming approach emphasizes the importance of natural processes and of
developing closed, self-sufficient systems by placing restrictions on the use of purchased
medicines and agrochemicals (Phillips and Tind Sørensen, 1993). Diversity, stability, animal
welfare and natural behaviour are aspects highly valued in organic agriculture, which also
includes social considerations. In Norway, the difference between conventional and organic
agriculture is probably not that large, since there is a generally high level of awareness about
the importance of environmental and social factors for agriculture. One could thus say that in
Norway the term “sustainable agriculture” is a multi-dimensional concept, since it includes a
broad range of objectives such as maintaining rural settlement, protecting breeds at risk,
preventing soil degradation and reducing nutrient runoff from fertilizers. In addition to
environmental restrictions, it also includes economic, social and cultural dimensions, as
defined by the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO, 1992):
“Sustainable development is the management and conservation of the natural resources base, and the
orientation of technological and institutional change in such a manner as to ensure the attainment and
continued satisfaction of human needs for present and future generations. Such sustainable
development in the agriculture, forestry and fisheries sectors conserves land, water, plant and animal
genetic resources, is environmentally non-degrading, technically appropriate, economically viable
and socially acceptable.”
Even if there are many different definitions of ”sustainable production”, these could be
summarized in five shared aspects for those who envision long-term and fair solutions to the
challenge of securing food production (Francis and Callaway, 1993):
1. Resource efficiency: most efficient possible use of non-renewable resources and whenever
possible, substitute renewable resources for those imported from outside the farm.
2. Profitability: economically profitable in both the short and the long term.
3. Productivity: maintain and enhance the productivity of all basic resources rather than
destroying or degrading them.
4. Environmental soundness: minimal negative impact both on the farm and beyond the farm
5. Social viability: equitable systems favouring owner/operator farms, contributing to viable
rural economy, infrastructure and community, supporting and integrating with overall
This implies that one increasingly should take future generations into consideration, and be
more critical of the globalization of food systems, as well as of the energy consumption
resulting from specialization and the long-distance transport of large quantities of food and
Ethical norms for animal husbandry
As a reaction to a narrow interpretation of the concept of animal welfare and a liberal
interpretation of the animal protection act, the issue of ethics has been raised in connection
with animal husbandry. Many difficult questions have arisen with regard to the nature of
animals’ intrinsic value. Assuming that animals do have intrinsic value, all encroachments on
their lives (by humans) become moral issues in demand of carefully considered answers and
An important question with regard to animal husbandry is if it is morally legitimate to use
animals merely as a resource or means to meet our needs, or if there are moral considerations
that place restrictions on such an approach. An anthropocentric attitude, however, implies that
we only have moral obligations, e.g., showing respect, caring and preventing and healing
injuries, to other humans. On this basis, a purely instrumental approach to animals can be
justified. Non-anthropocentric attitudes are based on the assumption that not only humans, but
all organisms have intrinsic value and interests, thus placing moral obligations on us humans.
In order to distinguish between appropriate and unacceptable animal welfare, knowledge is
needed about physiology, ethology, human health, genetics, etc. However, even when
agreeing on the scientific facts, it is still possible to disagree about what to consider as a
sufficient level of animal welfare. Such disagreement is often caused by differences in ethical
norms and judgements. Just like different individuals and cultures have different opinions
about how do define a “good human life”, we also have diverging views on animal welfare.
Such considerations are based on such fundamental ethical issues as what is important in life,
and thus, they must be taken seriously. Emotions play an important role in developing values
and attitudes. Discussions on animal welfare are therefore often stigmatized as being
emotional, and thus subjective and unfit as a basis for rational decision making. In this
connection, Simonsen (1994) quoted the late Danish chief veterinarian Christian Brekling,
who throughout his life was among the most committed supporters of improved animal
welfare: «Emotions are not the opposite of reason. Emotions are rather the opposite of
indifference, stupidity and cynicism – exactly those characteristics that are currently
threatening the welfare of humans as well as animals».
The word ”welfare” is derived from well + fare, i.e., how well (or dignified) an animal ”fares”
(travels) through life. How well is an animal able to regulate its biological functions in
relation to its environment? The term “animal welfare” applies to both the mental/emotional
and the physical health (from an objective standpoint) of the individual animal or the animal’s
condition while trying to cope with its environment. The term also includes behaviour, as well
as physiological and immunological factors. In this context, health is defined broader than
merely the absence of disease. It is also seen as a condition in which the body is resistant to
negative environmental influences. An important basis for ensuring animal health is the
animals’ well-being. Animal welfare is also more than just the absence of suffering. It also
includes positive welfare, implying that denying an animal all positive experiences and
stimuli is also an ethical problem with regard to animal protection. “Animal protection” is
here seen as the protection of the mental/emotional and the physical health of each individual
There is considerable agreement on the following five freedoms:
1. Freedom from hunger, thirst and malnutrition
2. Freedom from discomfort
3. Freedom from pain, injury and disease
4. Freedom to express normal behaviour
5. Freedom from fear and distress
Other requirements often mentioned in connection with animal welfare include:
• We shall enable the achievement of the best possible animal welfare, which also
includes positive welfare beyond the mere absence of suffering.
• Animals should be allowed to behave naturally, and they should be fed in accordance
with what is natural for the species in question. Both such behaviour necessary for
maintaining normal physiological and physical conditions and behaviour necessary for
maintaining a normal emotional condition, including mental and intellectual aspects,
• Consideration should also be taken of the animals’ social needs, including territory,
social rank order, group size and social structure (age composition, variations in social
• There should be sufficient contact and a trusting relationship between animals and
• Animals should be killed quickly and with as little pain as possible.
Even from a more egoistic standpoint, we could argue for a respectful, fair treatment of
animals. In many cultures with a more caring attitude towards their animals, there seems to be
generally more respect for both animal and human life, and people have more concern for
each other. Obviously, if we inflict suffering upon the animals, we violate human dignity and
contribute to the development of a crueler society.
Biotechnology and ethics
In Norway, artificial insemination began as early as 1942. This marked the beginning of the
biotechnological development in livestock production – a development that has continued to
this day. For example, transgenic animals (with genes transferred from other species) and
cloning of farm animals have already been introduced in the USA. One could say that the
biotechnological development follows from a mechanistic approach to nature. This approach
is marked by considerable optimism and the belief that biological processes can be controlled
to serve humankind, while at the same time, we are able to control any negative side effects of
technology. Potential adverse side effects are often overseen, or scientists attempt to solve
such problems (or their symptoms) by developing new technology. In recent years a new
political and scientific debate has been raised on the issue of biotechnology, focusing
considerably on ethical issues. What type of biotechnological applications should be
permitted, and where do we draw the line? Should gene transfers between species be banned?
Where are the limits for biotechnological research? Questions can also be raised concerning
the release of genetically modified organisms (GMOs) in nature and the risk of spreading
harmful microorganisms. We must also take a stand on the issue of patenting genetic
technology, genetically modified organisms and products derived from these. We must weigh
the possible benefits against the risks to animal and human welfare and to the environment.
When applying biotechnology we must not forget to consider the possibility of unknown
negative side effects, or side effects that do not become apparent until many years later or in
entirely different areas. Biotechnology can be very effective, and it is therefore very important
to assess all possible effects on animals, humans and the environment. For example, a slight
decline of food prices cannot justify an increased risk of poor animal health and welfare, more
use of antibiotics and the development of resistant bacteria. The issue possibly becomes more
complex when considering the use of transgenic organisms (bioreactors) to produce
medicines that are vital for many people. Biotechnology must be seen in a broader context,
and we cannot only consider the obvious short-term benefits. We can perhaps solve our
problems with preventive or alternative measures at a lower risk, measures that also remediate
the underlying causes of the problems?
Some of these issues are regulated by the Gene Technology Act of 1993.
Ethical considerations that have been or are relevant in relation to the use of biotechnology
include (Sandøe and Holtug, 1998):
1. Considerations to the welfare of both animals and humans must be taken.
2. Scientists should not «play God».
3. Animals should not be treated merely as utilities.
4. The genetic integrity of animals should not be violated. Genetic integrity is defined
here as keeping the genome intact. This would thus go against all animal breeding
based on selection.
In their discussion of the ethical aspects of biotechnology, Sandøe and Holtug (1998)
distinguish between two different issues:
1. Which considerations are ethically relevant? What should we consider when deciding
on the conditions for ethically acceptable use of biotechnology, e.g., when using
biotechnology to change aquatic organisms? According to some, as long as transgenic
animals do not suffer, there are no ethical problems involved in developing and using
such animals in production. Others claim that in addition to animal welfare
considerations, it is also important that we do not infringe upon nature and violate the
intrinsic value of the natural world by «playing God».
2. How do we weigh the pros and cons of the various ethical considerations? For
example, we may be of the opinion that animals should have a decent life and that
consumers have the right to good quality fish at reasonable prices. These
considerations may conflict with each other, and we must therefore weigh animal
welfare against consumer interests.
In such cases, there are often trade-offs between efficiency and animal welfare considerations.
Under consideration of the precautionary principle, the risk of negative effects of technology
should be carefully assessed. Even though all negative side effects cannot be determined
beforehand, this should not restrain us from using new biotechnology to a certain degree. In
the case of valuable technology that enables the improvement of human health or even the
saving of lives, such as the use of animals as bioreactors in the production of medicines, a
certain risk of adverse effects can be accepted. However, if the expected benefits are
insignificant, e.g., a slight drop in food prices, or if the risk of adverse side effects is relatively
large, this could justify the limited use of such technology on the basis of ethical
considerations. A common viewpoint is thus that the use (or non-use) of biotechnology as
such is not a relevant question, but rather the trade off between any benefits and the adverse
effects of possible side effects.
A large and powerful industry is investing a lot of effort and money in developing markets for
GMOs and GMO products. In the crop sector, the same company often markets both
genetically modified seeds and plants and pesticides. The farmers themselves have very little
control over this industry. If we release GMOs in nature, there is a risk of spreading their
genetic material. Such organisms could outcompete native species and thus reduce
biodiversity. There are numerous examples of the substantial problems that can be caused by
the introduction of plant and animal species to new habitats. It must also be concluded from
previous studies that we only have very limited knowledge about possible negative side
effects. Often, we lack both the creativity and the know-how to ask the necessary critical
questions, which would enable us to examine the potential risks beforehand. The use of
transgenic organisms is thus a gigantic experiment with nature. In most cases in which
biotechnology does not provide paramount benefits, we should therefore apply the
precautionary principle and show extreme caution.
Weighing the ethics
It may be considered impossible to weigh such ethical values as human life and animal
welfare against pure economic considerations, such as the price of meat. However, this is
exactly what we are doing when making important decisions, e.g., determining speed limits,
funding the development of roads or hospitals and formulating animal husbandry regulations.
Instead of weighing these issues implicitly or indirectly, it would be better to consciously
weigh ethical and economic considerations. Even when a good or a product cannot be priced,
it can nevertheless be of considerable value to individuals or society as a whole. In the past
few decades, new methods have been developed to put a price on such ethical values as
environmental goods (e.g., clean air, less noise and a beautiful natural scenery) or human and
animal welfare (e.g., less stress and disease). Even though many of these methods are
controversial and have their pros and cons, they have also proved to be useful on many
The aquaculture industry has the potential of contributing significantly to increasing the
supply of seafood in the years ahead. The FAO claims that fish farming can solve the world’s
food problems. However, in order to meet these expectations, the aquaculture industry must
ensure sustainability, with focus on feed sources, environmental quality, fish health and
International guidelines for sustainable aquaculture are also moving in the direction of
functional integrity. These guidelines are based on the following principles (Holmenkollen
1. The principles for environmental management and sustainable development as put forth
by the Rio Convention on Biodiversity in 1992. These principles include taking into
consideration the interdependence between biological, technological, socio-economical
and ethical aspects.
2. The ”precautionary principle” – implying that when lacking sufficient knowledge and
reliable experience, one chooses strategies that effectively reduce environmental impact
in the future.
3. Fair distribution of resources between all people.
The world population is growing, putting pressure on our natural resources. This is one of the
challenges to enabling a sustainable development. A major issue is the production of animal
protein, and there is an urgent need to find new protein sources. The fishing industry is mainly
based on the utilization of natural resources, with an annual global catch of about 60 million
tons of consumer fish per year. This figure has been rather stable for several years, and it is
not expected that the catch can be increased substantially in the future.
Ethically acceptable fish farming
When discussing if modern fish farming can be ethically justified, two main issues must be
• What does modern fish farming actually imply for the fish?
• With what should the conditions in a fish farm be compared to?
What does modern fish farming actually imply for the fish?
Fish are cold-blooded animals, and thus especially vulnerable to extreme environmental
conditions, such as temperature variations, currents and algal blooms. In addition, farmed fish
are also subject to handling, transport and chemical treatments (e.g., delousing). It has been
shown that different fish species react differently to such conditions. For example, salmon can
thrive poorly (with reduced appetite and growth) for several weeks after having been handled,
whereas char seems to tolerate handling without being affected to any degree. Thus, fish react
differently to the same stimuli, and measures that can be considered as sound welfare for one
species are not necessarily appropriate for another.
Welfare requirements for farmed fish:
1. Normal regulation of physiological processes
2. Normal behaviour, with little aggression between individuals
3. Normal appetite and growth
4. Absence of pain, fear, injury, disease and unexpected death
On one hand, one could say that fish farms provide a sound, protected environment for the
fish – with few external enemies, plenty of feed and fresh, clean water. In addition, the fish
are vaccinated against several diseases. On the other hand, however, fish populations in the
netpens are very dense, resulting in a relatively high risk of disease and limited access to
exercise and positive stimuli. Furthermore, the fish are extensively handled in connection with
transports, vaccination, stripping (brood stock) and slaughter. Breeding and genetic
manipulation can lead to permanent changes of the fish populations.
What should fish farming be compared to?
Should we compare the conditions in fish farming to the fishes’ natural living conditions, to
marine fisheries – or perhaps to the conditions in livestock husbandry on land? Our
knowledge of fish behaviour and welfare in their natural habitats is very limited. Many
species obviously thrive spending all or parts of their lives in densely packed schools (e.g.,
salmon at sea), whereas other species are much more territorial (e.g., river salmon). Wild fish
can also suffer from diseases, get parasites and even lack food for a while. However, when we
keep fish in captivity, we become responsible for making sure that they do not suffer from
disease or lack of food. We know little of fishes’ exercise requirements, or if they suffer when
not being able to swim around freely. Regarding mechanical strain in nature, one has to
assume that a fish swimming against the current of a Norwegian river will have to endure
somewhat of a ‘beating’. In traditional fisheries, using longlines, trawl and fishing nets, as
well as in game fishing, the fish are treated in ways that can inflict considerable pain. Even
though such pain has, more or less consciously, been defined as “necessary suffering” with
regard to the Animal Protection Act, one can nevertheless not conclude that this justifies poor
welfare in the fish farming environment.
Sustainable livestock breeding
Olesen et al. (2000) concluded that sustainable animal breeding is a long-term and complex
process, thus necessitating a greater focus on long-term biological, ecological and
sociological solutions. To approach the development of breeding goals for sustainable animal
production based on functional integrity, the authors proposed to address the following
procedures and issues:
1. Focus on and priorities for sustainability, including ethical priorities, such as the tradeof
between animal welfare on one side, and economic profitability or consumers’
willingness to pay on the other.
2. Characterize and define the production system with regard to the limits and structures
of resource utilization, the environment, as well as economic and social aspects. What
are the critical factors for the reproduction and maintenance of resources and
processes in the system?
3. Define indicators for the measurement or presentation of the critical factors and the
priority goals mentioned above (items 1 and 2), and of the critical effects of
production. For such important measures of sustainability as profitability, resource
utilization and animal welfare, examples of respective indicators are operating results,
production per unit area, antibiotics consumption and resource depletion.
4. Identify the animals’ characteristics that are important with regard to these indicators
or criteria, and weigh these to optimize production in accordance with the restrictions
and priorities determined in item 1.
Status of livestock breeding in Norway
Before we can propose criteria and guidelines for sustainable animal breeding, we need an
overview of the current status, and must identify critical factors and trends. This presentation
of the current status of animal breeding in Norway is mainly based on the National report to
the FAO’s Status Report on the world’s farm animal genetic resources (Sæther, 2002). The
National Report is a useful and relevant document in this context. In addition, Norwegian
legislature and policies in the area are presented, e.g., by referring to the White Paper on
animal welfare. To place the situation within the context of developments in Europe and
world-wide, reference is mainly made to publications from the thematic EU-network
SEFABAR, Sustainable European Farm Animal Breeding and Reproduction (Liinamo and
Neeteson-van Nieuwenhoven, 2003).
Livestock production in Norway
Norway’s topography, climate and northern location greatly affect the country’s animal
production. There are vast mountain and other rough grazing areas, which are utilized in
cattle, sheep and goat farming. At the same time, livestock has to be kept indoors for many
months due to the long and harsh winters. Norwegian livestock production is furthermore
characterized by a high technological standard, a need for costly farm buildings, small-scaled
farm structure and a strong focus on animal welfare. Until 1994, there were stringent
restrictions on the import of livestock. In addition to the cold climate, the import restrictions
helped to maintain an extremely high animal health status. The trend during the past decade
has been a decreasing number of livestock-farming enterprises, but a stable farm animal
population. Average herd sizes are thus increasing for all farm animal species. Milk
production is decreasing, whereas meat production is increasing, especially for monogastric
animals such as poultry and pigs. However, farms are generally still very small in Norway,
with average herd sizes of, e.g., 14 dairy cows and 850 laying hens (1999). Family income on
many farms is substantially based on either off-farm employment or other, non-farm
Traditionally, Norwegian agriculture and livestock production were assigned several public
responsibilities in addition to just producing food. Such a multifunctional agriculture includes
such issues as self-sufficiency and food security, rural policy (rural settlement and
development), environmental pollution, cultural landscape and socio-economic aspects related
to income developments and distribution within the sector. The combination of high
production costs and the broad range of goals for agriculture presents a tremendous challenge
to the design of national agricultural policies. In general, agricultural policy in Norway has
been based on import regulations and a national farm support system combining budget
allocations with extensive regulations. Stringent import restrictions have also been considered
necessary in order to secure the highly favourable animal health status in the country. After
the EU’s veterinary regulations were introduced in Norway in 1994 (in accordance with the
EEA Agreement), import restrictions have become weakened, and partially replaced by the
farm animal sector’s self-imposed regulations.
Two important regulatory mechanisms in Norwegian agricultural policy are farm-level quotas
and concessions. Cow and goat milk production are regulated by quota systems, which aim at
balancing milk production and market demand. Each dairy farm is annually assigned a quota
for how much milk it can produce. In 2002, the minimum quota for cow’s milk was 30,000
litres, and for dairy goats 15,000 litres.
Since the quota system was introduced in 1983, the number of dairy farmers declined by
about 44 %. The total national milk quota was reduced by about 18 % in the same period. In
1996, the state introduced a scheme offering financial compensation to dairy farmers who
stop producing milk – which presumably explains most of the farm decline in the past decade.
The production of pork and poultry is legally regulated by the Swine and Poultry Production
Act. This act aims to regulate the structure within these two sectors and to avoid the
development of industrial-type animal production in the most concentrate-intensive
production systems. Due to political as well as environmental considerations, such an agro-
industrial development with large production units is not desirable. Trends within the sector,
with a large share of farms having a total output below the concession limit, indicate that the
act, in accordance with its intention, has actually managed to limit the development of large,
industrialized farm units.
All aquaculture activities are subject to licensing. Aquaculture concessions are assigned in
accordance with the Fish Farming Act. The law aims to secure a balanced and sustainable
development of the aquaculture sector, enabling it to become a profitable and viable rural
industry. In 2000, there were 1000 licensed salmon and trout farmers, divided among 10 of
Norway’s 19 counties.
Due to the country’s natural conditions and its agricultural policies, the level of support in
Norwegian agriculture and livestock production is among the highest in the world (OECD,
2002). Trade liberalization and support reduction commitments, such as those resulting from
WTO negotiations, have led to increasing pressure on Norwegian agricultural policy and to
significant changes within the sector. At the same time, the general public is less willing to
support Norwegian agriculture. As a result of economic restrictions and market deregulation,
farm income is decreasing, the rate of structural changes is increasing and recruitment to the
farm (and livestock) sector is becoming increasingly difficult.
On the other hand, the fish farming and fur industries are highly dependent on world market
trends and prices. Such markets are extremely prone to annual variations, which for the fur
industry have led to considerable variations of the number of fur-bearing animals and of the
breeding population. Fur-bearing animal populations are relatively small, while the import of
breeding stock is quite unrestricted. This combination places considerable challenges on the
design of breeding strategies for these animals.
Norway’s tight labour market also makes it hard to find sufficient labour. In sum, these
developments may cause Norwegian animal production systems to follow the pattern in other
industrialized countries, with a gradual disappearance of its small-scale structure. Such
changes will presumably have significant effects on animal production and therefore, also on
animal breeding. This represents a threat to the viability of historical breeds in mainstream
agriculture. However, there is also reason to fear that the demand for increasing efficiency
will have unfavourable effects on the large, active breeding populations.
Co-operative enterprises in Norwegian agriculture and animal production
The strong position of cooperative enterprises is a characteristic of Norwegian agriculture and
animal production. This has been promoted by financial support and public regulations. The
cooperative enterprises’ considerable market share of all major animal products helps to
secure high producer prices and sales volumes. In addition, most breeding activities in the
farm animal sector have been carried out by cooperative organizations. Due to the farmers’
control of animal breeding programmes, they have shown considerable commitment to
ongoing breeding efforts and the extensive data registration schemes.
Animal breeding and welfare legislation
All breeding organizations are approved by the Norwegian Food Safety Authority (see page
??), pursuant to the Animal Breeding Act of 4 December 1992, no. 130. The main objective of
the act as stated in its provisions is to ”secure responsible breeding”. Furthermore, the
breeding organizations must be able to document that they have ”a sufficient number of
animals in order to conduct a proper breeding programme, or to enable the conservation of
animal stock (the breed) when considered necessary”. However, the terms ”responsible
breeding” and ”conservation of the breed” are not further specified. Such a specification also
lacks with regard to setting clearly defined minimum requirements for effective population
size and for the more general objectives of sustainable resource management.
Norway has had an animal welfare act since 1974. The provisions of the act regulate animal
husbandry, operating conditions, technical facilities and issues related to animal health. Each
of Norway’s 431 municipalities has an animal welfare committee, responsible for making
sure that the regulations are obeyed. Section 2 of the Animal Welfare Act states that «Animals
shall be treated well, and due regard shall be given to their natural instincts and needs, so
that they are not in danger of being caused unnecessary suffering.» As can be seen, it is not
just a matter of not suffering, but animals shall not even be in danger of being caused
suffering. Of course, such a phrasing is open to interpretation and debate as to when animals
suffer, and regarding what to consider as “unnecessary suffering”. The concept of suffering
usually implies that the animal is aware of its suffering, and should thus be considered as a
mental condition. “Discomfort” would be a better term, since it does not necessarily assume
the same state of self-awareness in the animal.
At the time when the Animal Welfare Act was formulated, fish farming was nowhere near
being such a big industry as nowadays. Therefore, the act makes few distinctions between
various types of vertebrates, such as between fish and mammals.
Traditional breeding and the use of gene technology/biotechnological methods in breeding are
directly regulated by the Animal Protection Act, after its revisions in 1993 and 1996 included
provisions on breeding in § 5. Thus, it is not permitted to alter the genes of animals by
applying genetic engineering or traditional breeding methods, if:
1. this prevents the animals from behaving normally, or negatively affects their physiological
2. this inflicts unnecessary suffering on the animals, or
3. the changes give rise to general ethical reactions.
It is also not permitted to breed animals that have become as described in sub-section 1.
Again, there are no precise definitions of many of the phrases, such as ”negatively affects
their physiological functions”. It has been scientifically documented that the natural
physiology of many modern livestock breeds, which have been bred for cost-efficient and
effective performance, may have been negatively affected (Rauw et al, 1998). These changes
could represent a threat to the future sustainable utilization of these breeds.
So far, the Ministry of Agriculture and Food has not specified the provisions of the Animal
Protection Act in separate regulations. Provisions on breeding are included in some of the
regulations dealing with specific livestock species. The regulations on cattle and pig
husbandry include passages stating that breeding shall enhance the animals’ functions and
health. The regulations on chicken and turkey husbandry are more specific and
comprehensive, additionally stating that breeding programmes shall emphasize the production
of strong, healthy animals: ”Focus shall be directed at using selection to remove/avoid such
negative traits as poor health, including leg problems, aggression, fear and feather pecking,
and the need for restrictive feeding. The aim is to produce animals that can live under normal
light conditions during the day (including natural daylight) and a normal period of darkness at
night.” The European Convention for the protection of animals kept for farming purposes also
includes provisions stating that one shall take animal health and welfare into consideration
when breeding for production traits.
The Gene Technology Act applies to microorganisms, plants and animals. The act shall
ensure that the production and use of genetically modified organisms take place in an
ethically and socially justifiable way, in accordance with the principle of sustainable
development and without detrimental effects on health and the environment. Contained
production and use of genetically modified organisms shall be reported or approved in
accordance with the regulations. The release of genetically modified organisms always
requires approval. Each case is individually assessed, and new decisions are based on
previous experience. Applications for the release of genetically modified organisms in nature
or in greenhouses are processed by the Ministry of the Environment. The Norwegian
parliament (Storting) has decided that the government should prepare a law prohibiting the
cloning of higher organisms.
According to Liinamo and Neeteson-van Nieuwenhoven (2003), European animal protection
organizations are concerned about the following welfare issues related to animal breeding and
reproduction: for ruminants, mastitis, limping and fertility disorders (in dairy production); and
foot and leg problems, reduced longevity and increasing rate of Caesarean births (in beef
cattle and sheep). Throughout Europe, stillbirths have become a widespread problem in the
commonly used Holstein cow. For pigs, foot and leg problems and various welfare problems
in sow-piglet relationships were mentioned. Poultry is prone to such disorders as various
fertility problems (in egg production), leg problems and metabolic disorders such as lacking
or excessive appetite (in broilers). In fish, there is concern about spine and jaw deformities,
stress tendency (even the genetic basis for these conditions are not yet established), and the
potential damage to wild fish from diseases and genes spread by escaped farmed fish.
The Norwegian livestock associations’ animal welfare action plans show that they are aware
of the importance of breeding for good animal health and welfare. In Norway, as in most
industrialized countries, the welfare of farm animals has been subject to increasing consumer
focus. Animal welfare is thus one of the issues implying that animal breeding should be an
issue of public debate. The focus on welfare issues has resulted in many new regulations –
with specified demands on the care and housing of all major farm animal species.
In its white paper on animal welfare (Report to the Storting no. 12, 2002-2003), the Ministry
of Agriculture and Food assumes that all organized animal breeding must be based on the
consideration of the animals’ health and welfare. With regard to future animal breeding, the
following aspects were emphasized:
• More focus on health issues in breeding programmes
• A requirement that all breeding goals must include the issue of ensuring healthy and
functionally sound animals
• The Animal Protection Act should have implications for the practical breeding of the
various farm animal species and breeds
• Politically, it is furthermore not an option in Norway to base breeding on cloning or
the use of transgenic farm animals or fish.
Many people feel strongly opposed to our “tampering” with nature (or creation) and the
production of new, “unnatural” animals. This distrust does not seem to be merely linked to
whether or not genetic modification actually leads to suffering in animals. Politically, it is
currently not an option in Norway to base breeding on cloning or the use of transgenic farm
animals or fish, since all farm animal associations and the Norwegian Seafood Federation
clearly disapproved of such techniques. Nevertheless, gene technological methods are used as
tools in laboratories to increase the efficiency of selecting breeding animals.
The Council for Animal Ethics discussed the breeding of farm animals (1997) and dogs
(1998). The council is sceptical to the general use of embryo transfer in both small livestock
(1994) and cattle (1998). Furthermore, the council has also been opposed to breeding for a
higher twinning rate in cattle (1998).
In recent years, there has been increased marketing and sales of such products as eggs from
freerange hens and organic animal products. Worldwide, Europe and North America are the
largest organic markets, with an annual growth rate in 2002 of 8 % and 12 %, respectively
(Willer and Yussefi, 2004). For example, sales of organic semi-skimmed milk were twice as
high in 2003 as in 1998. However, this trend has levelled out somewhat in most recent years.
Animal welfare plays a central role in organic agriculture, and a specific goal is to enable
animals to live in accordance with their natural behaviour and needs, based on organic
agriculture’s understanding of animal welfare. Farm operations shall take the nature of each
animal species into consideration, allowing, for example, pigs and hens to live according to
their natural instincts, thus being able to utilize their potential. Knowing about and respecting
the characteristic traits of each species is considered a prerequisite of organic livestock
Increasing numbers of farmers are interested in converting to organic farming in Norway,
even though at a lesser rate than in many other western European countries. The Norwegian
government’s goal is that 10 % of the Norwegian farmland is converted to organic by 2010,
which equals about four times the present converted acreage. Important goals related to
breeding include adaptation to local conditions, securing genetic diversity and a performance
level in proportion to the need of securing animal health and welfare. Although some organic
dairy farmers use old Norwegian cattle breeds, it is otherwise common to use the same breeds
or hybrids as in conventional agriculture. Breeds that often require Caesarean births are not
permitted in organic farming. Natural mating is desirable, but AI is permitted. Embryo
transfers are not permitted according to organic standards.
Animal rights organizations and political interest groups have at times put a lot of pressure on
the industry and demanded a ban on fur farming, out of consideration for the animals’
welfare. This has influenced the authorities in their formulation of requirements for the fur
industry. In the white paper on animal welfare, the Ministry of Agriculture and Food suggests
an evaluation of the current fox-farming regulations to ensure that fox farms allow regular
exercise. The area per animal should be larger than in today’s systems and the bedding should
be improved to comply with the animals’ behavioural needs. This leads to additional
expenses, equivalent to between one-third and more than one half of the gross farm-gate value
of fur-animal pelts. The ministry also proposed to improve mink welfare by developing
systems that comply better with the animals’ behavioural needs. This can be achieved by
increasing the available floor space per animal and by stimulating the animals more. These
requirements will be specified in regulations, with which the fur industry must comply within
a period of ten years.
Another trend is increasing herd sizes, e.g., in dairy and pig farming. This will place new
demands on the design of regulations and inspection schemes in the livestock sector.
Within the European network project SEFABAR, the large gap between animal breeders and
animal protection organizations became very obvious (Liinamo and Neeteson-van
Nieuwenhoven, 2003). A study of the attitudes of six European animal protection
organizations showed that they were very critical of the status quo and of future developments
in livestock breeding. As in organic farming, animal protectionists also base their work on the
intrinsic value of all animals. All organizations in the study wished to place restrictions on
breeding and reproduction. All organizations, except for one, felt it was not acceptable to use
breeding as a way to solve welfare problems linked to farm operations and technical
installations. However, only one organization did not accept any breeding technology and
other breeding goals than those directly linked to animal welfare and health. The other
organizations had a more flexible approach. The animal protection organizations represented
in the project referred to the European Union’s animal protection legislature, pointing out that
it should be the main motivating factor or guideline for future animal breeding. On the other
hand, the breeders represented in the project saw the animals as populations with variations
around average performance traits, which can be altered in response to wishes or needs, e.g.,
higher milk yields or behaviour that is better adapted to a new production environment.
Among the project’s commercial livestock breeders, the main priorities predominantly still
had an economic focus. Their dilemma was that if European breeders were not able to
compete in the aggressive global market, breeding stock will then be imported from non-
European countries with even poorer animal welfare. Thus, the European breeders aimed for a
compromise between a pure animal welfare and a pure economic approach. On the other
hand, the breeding industry and scientists in the field must take on responsibility for animal
welfare issues vis-à-vis the animal protection organizations, and must demand appropriate
solutions to these problems. The animal protection organizations would be good partners in
the search for suitable solutions (e.g., like the environmental protection organizations’
promotion of environmental taxes in the WTO), both at a national and at an international
A workshop within the same project underlined that neither the cloning of animals, nor
genetic modification of feedstuffs are feasible options for European livestock breeding. The
arguments were partially based on technological and economic grounds, and partially on the
realization that such developments were currently undesired.
During the past 30 years, the Norwegian aquaculture industry has developed from being a
supplementary enterprise to a full-fledged industry. Norway is the world’s leading exporter of
salmon and trout, with 54 % of the world’s total salmon production in 2002. Only 5 % of this
production is sold on the domestic market. Salmon is exported to more than 100 countries.
The biggest buyer of Norwegian salmon is Denmark. The largest market for rainbow trout is
Japan. The Norwegian mariculture industry is expected to continue its growth in the years
ahead. Even though salmon and trout will remain the major products for years to come, new
products from other species are being developed.
The breakthrough for Aquaculture did not occur until around 1970, when one started feeding
salmon and rainbow trout in floating netpens in the sea. It was natural to start salmon farming
in Norway, since the country has excellent natural conditions for such an industry, as well as
numerous, large salmon populations that served as a source of genetic material. The
Norwegian breeding material for farmed salmon was developed from broodstock from 40
Norwegian river populations.
The production of spawn is regulated by the need for smolt, consumer fish production limits
and concession rules. Large production volumes are needed to operate efficient and profitable
breeding programmes, and only relatively few facilities have been licensed for such
The production of smolt and consumer fish is also regulated by concession limits. The
maximum annual production quota is currently fixed at 2.5 million smolts per facility. The
industry claims that this limit may contribute to preventing investments in new and improved
technology. New technology could benefit both the environment and a facility’s production
capacity. However, if the increased capacity cannot be utilized it is difficult to justify such
Consumer fish production is regulated by several laws and regulations, which specify such
parameters as fish farm size, fish population density and total feed consumption. In addition,
facilities are assessed with regard to their sustainability and their need for preliminary safety
zones and future protection zones. Corresponding to developments in smolt production, the
need for increased capital investments in grow-out facilities will also arise. The utilization of
increasingly more advanced technology and expertise will be the determining factor for
securing the efficiency and profitability of such facilities in the years ahead.
There is still insufficient knowledge about what factors are relevant for assessing the welfare
of farmed fish. As a species, salmon actually shows signs of having been “tamed” in the
course of its 30-year history as a farmed fish – showing less fear of humans and more
frequently swimming in schools. Research on aspects of fish biology that are relevant for
animal welfare issues, such as its sensory apparatus or its ability to sense fear, frustration and
pain, have not been given priority. A group of researchers in Norway recently completed a
literature survey of pain sensation and response in fish (Sohlberg et al, 2004). They concluded
that fish do have the physiological, anatomical and biochemical prerequisites in their brain
necessary for pain sensation. Also, their behaviour is typical of reactions to pain, discomfort
In this context it must be remembered that within our Western culture, we have a different
basic approach to fish than to higher vertebrates. Fish are adapted to life in a different
element, they do not make sounds and lack facial expressions. The body language of fish is
strange to us, and we usually do not relate to their behaviour. Nevertheless, there is a growing
accept for the importance of animal welfare, and that such issues should be given more
emphasis – not only to satisfy the consumers, but for the sake of the fish. In many aspects, the
interests of producers, consumers and fish coincide, since animals that are taken well care of
are more content, grow faster and give higher profits, thus ensuring lower consumer prices
and improved product quality. Good fish welfare also means that fish farmers and other
players in the industry are able to enjoy their work and, last but not least, enables them to
improve relationships with consumers and authorities. There will always be cases of
conflicting interests between the fish farmers’ desire for short-term profits and low consumer
prices on one hand, and the consideration of fish welfare on the other. Even though we lack
considerable knowledge about the degree of pain and suffering experienced by fish, it is
important to use common sense. Often, we can perceive when a fish is in pain or stressed, and
there are many typical signs that can be interpreted by anyone used to working with animals.
Fish farmers generally treat their animals well, and such an approach usually helps to prevent
“unnecessary” suffering. Nevertheless, the fish farmers are desperately in need of more
knowledge and a broader understanding of the natural behaviour and needs of their animals.
In this connection, it is important to point out the lack of regulations for such a substantial
animal industry. In the course of a mere 30 years, fish farming has by far become Norway’s
major farm animal industry. The sector has a typical “large-scale, industrial character”, and
“herd sizes” are much larger than in any other animal enterprise in Norwegian agriculture. As
mentioned, the Animal Welfare Act of 1974 was designed just as the aquaculture industry
was getting underway, and the wording of the act did therefore not have fish farming in mind.
The act thus makes few distinctions between various types of vertebrates, such as between
fish and mammals.
In the Report to the Storting on animal welfare, specific challenges for fish breeding are
discussed. Issues mentioned in the report include ensuring a selection of functionally healthy
breeding fish, and making sure that the physical environment during incubation and hatching
helps to reduce the frequency of side effects such as deformities and diseases.
Risk factors in salmon and trout production
The fish farming industry is totally dependent on good market conditions. However, the
Norwegian fish farm industry is extremely vulnerable, since 71 % of the salmon produced in
Norway is exported to the EU and 80 % of Norwegian rainbow trout is exported to Japan.
Thus, all factors affecting these markets are of substantial importance to the industry. Familiar
risk factors include import restrictions and the consumers’ perception of how “safe” it is to eat
Norwegian fish – both with regard to the animals’ health status and use of medicines, but also
regarding their welfare conditions. Another challenge for the fish farming industry is the
access to labour, especially with regard to finding and keeping skilled employees in remote
areas. Public regulations can have a considerable effect on production conditions, and it is
therefore important that the fish farming industry perceives the general policy framework as
being favourable and reliable.
Escaped farmed fish and the impact on wild populations
There has been widespread debate about, and considerable fear of the possible negative
effects of escaped farmed fish on wild populations. Genetic interaction between escaped
farmed fish and wild populations has been proven (Crozier, 1993; Clifford et al., 1998;
McGinnity et al., 2003). Environmental and genetic differences between farmed fish and wild
populations include fitness traits such as survival, body shape, growth, competitiveness and
reproduction. Escapes of farmed salmon have been significantly reduced; from 1.6-2 million
(2-3 % of the total farmed fish production) in the late 1980s, to 0.4 million (0.1 % of the total
farmed fish production) in 2002. In spite of this, demands have been made to ban salmon
farming from several large fjords in order to protect important, threatened salmon
Norwegian animal breeding
Several important political decisions concerning genetic resources have been made. Based on
national and international documents on genetic resources, Norway has committed itself to
ensuring the sustainable management of genetic resources. This implies implementing
measures at a national level. An overriding commitment is that livestock-based value creation
and business development are to be based on the principle of the protection and sustainable
use of farm animal genetic resources.
The main framework conditions for enabling the sustainable use and development of genetic
1. Ensuring general policy guidelines that promote sustainable use, also with regard to other
political processes, e.g., in connection with trade and patent agreements.
2. Investing in and giving priority to developing knowledge on the concept of sustainable
development and the associated direct and indirect implications.
4. Developing a set of rules to regulate the utilization of farm animal genetic resources.
5. Promoting an appropriate division of responsibilities between public authorities and
private breeding organizations.
6. Developing a reporting system to ensure that actions are taken in accordance with the
Convention on Biodiversity and national commitments.
Norwegian breeding work is mainly organized in cooperative enterprises, and is characterized
by having broad breeding goals for dual-purpose breeds and a high degree of involvement by
the active farmers. The professional and technical standards are high, and all breeding work
and breeding value estimations are based on the BLUP 1 -system. Uncritical use of the method
increases the inbreeding rate in a population. Most Norwegian animal breeding programmes
have included restrictions aimed at limiting the inbreeding rate to a minimum.
Breeding programmes have traditionally held a strong position among Norway’s livestock
farmers, and they still do. There are numerous reasons for this, the main ones being:
• Breeding organizations are owned and controlled by the farmers themselves
• Breeding goals are decided by the farmers
• It has been possible to apply broad breeding goals, both with regard to performance
and functional traits
• There is a high degree of participation in the animal production recording scheme
• The results of breeding programmes are well-documented
• The are close links between breeding research and practical breeding work
• New methods and ideas are rapidly implemented
• Within each commercial farm animal species, there are either only one or very few
• The extent of live animal sales is rather limited, indicating that farmers have a
relatively uniform perception of the goals and benefits of their breeding efforts
1 BLUP=Best Linear Unbiased Prediction
Sustainability in animal breeding
The breeding goals in Norwegian livestock breeding are considerably based on a long-term
philosophy. Animals are not merely supposed to produce as much as possible within a short
period of time, but are also expected to maintain their fertility and health. This has practical
implications on which traits to include in the breeding goal, and on how the various traits are
weighted. For Norwegian Red (NRF), for example, health, fertility and calving ease traits
comprise 44 %, while milk yield only makes up 23 % of the breeding goal. When the
breeding goal includes many different traits with such a considerable weighting, many
different combinations can thus result in a high overall genetic merit. This also enables
various types of animals to score highly on the selection list. By testing large progeny groups
(250-300 daughters), reliable selection is also enabled for traits with a low degree of
For the silver fox population, it may be necessary to initiate specific measures to prevent
inbreeding, since this is a small population that is especially prone to varying population size.
Regarding sustainability, there are numerous favourable factors in Norwegian animal
1. Both performance and functionality are expressed by numerous traits, and receive
considerable weight in breeding programmes.
2. Many different trait combinations can result in a high overall genetic merit. This implies
that animals from different lines can be selected. The risk of inbreeding is therewith
3. Breeding is based on data from ordinary production herds, including access to health
and disease data (cattle). In combination with the diversity of traits in the breeding goal
(see item 1), this ensures that animals are bred that function well under ordinary
operating conditions. For several animal species (sheep, goats and foxes), decentralized
breeding schemes are carried out with considerable commitment by the farmers. For
most animal species, breeding schemes are open, using breeding stock from ordinary
production herds or breeding herds.
4. Regular replacement of elite breeding animals prevents the intensive use of a limited
number of elite sires. However, in sheep breeding it may be necessary to introduce
measures to avoid the overuse of popular AI rams.
Studies of cultural differences in the SEFABAR Project showed large national and regional
differences in breeding practice. The same applied to people’s views on globalization,
industrialization and standardization. Each country tried to find a balance between its own
local needs and the commitments to global equality. Norway stood out with attitudes and a
political climate that provided a sound basis for the farm sector and the rural population.
Norwegian principles regarding cooperative enterprises and cooperation in general,
community spirit and equal rights have led to the fair distribution of profits, created values,
work, equipment and facilities. A common approach in France, Italy and Norway is the
general view that one cannot compete on the basis of cost-efficiency. Thus, the development
of special products or product qualities has been a logical strategy. The rural cultural and
business spirits are based on local traditions, thus providing a competitive edge that cannot be
copied. The globalization trend has more or less affected all countries, and the current
development is towards a reduction of breeding organizations, so that only 4-5 organizations
will control global breeding activities within each animal species. In spite of this trend, most
countries still have their own breeding organizations. Norwegian farmers will surely still have
their own cattle, sheep and goat breeding organizations in the future. However, the national
poultry breeding programme in Norway has been wound up, and the situation is also unsure
for the species resembling poultry, both biologically and with regard to the degree of
industrialization, such as pigs and fish. In poultry breeding, the market for minor, old and
local breeds has really flourished in the absence of a national breeding programme. The need
for breeds that are better adapted to loose housing systems has probably had a significant
effect on the increased demand for alternative poultry breeds.
The USA, and to a large extent the Netherlands, represent the opposite of the abovementioned
European countries with regard to culture and business concepts, with strong
trends towards increased globalization, large-scale operations, competitiveness and
industrialization of agriculture.
In another interesting study in the SEFABAR Project, consumer perception of animal
breeding was studied in focus groups in France and Great Britain (Ouédraogo, 2003). The
study showed that consumers had very limited knowledge of the methods and goals of
livestock breeding. On the other hand, consumers were indirectly interested in breeding, since
they were concerned about food production in general. Upper and middle class groups were
willing to pay more for food produced in accordance with more stringent requirements, while
working-class groups did not see why they should pay more for such improvements of
product quality. Members of all focus groups supported three strategies aimed at mitigating
consumers’ food-related fears: increasing consumer awareness, compulsory labelling and the
introduction of minimum standards via EU regulations. Presumably, an equivalent study of
focus groups in Norway would give similar results, even though consumer trust in Norwegian
food production is somewhat higher than elsewhere in Europe.
The risk factors in livestock production and breeding are mainly twofold:
1. Factors linked to climate and the spread of diseases
2. Economic factors
The demand for increasing efficiency and thus, the need for more industrial-scale production,
which implies an increasing infection pressure, is a serious threat to sustainable animal
breeding. Several of the diseases that are common in neighbouring countries, only occur to a
limited extent, or are even practically non-existent in Norwegian livestock husbandry. For
pigs, for example, this applies to salmonella, scab, swine dysentery, enzootic pneumonia and
There are also numerous examples of how breeding for performance has led to undesired side
effects, which conflict with sustainable production. A literature survey had 110 referrals to
such undesired side effects of selection for higher performance efficiency (Rauw et al, 1998).
Thus, the pressure to increase efficiency and a short-term economic focus are major threats to
sustainable animal breeding.
An important economic risk factor in Norway today is the access to sufficient investment
capital. The investment level in modern dairy production has become so high, that dairy
production, and thus also breeding schemes, have become extremely vulnerable to economic
fluctuations. The economy in certain enterprises, such as suckler cow production, is very
weak. Nevertheless, there are several Norwegian breeding populations of beef cattle, although
these are very small. To avoid inbreeding, these populations thus depend on the import of
genes in the form of semen and embryos.
Sheep farming is another farm enterprise with a weak economy, and is thus highly dependent
on a politically determined economic framework. Other challenges to be met by sheep
farmers include predators, contagious diseases, and overproduction. Dairy goat farmers have
to deal with diseases and milk quota schemes. Due to the declining number of sheep and goat
farmers and restrictions on animal mobility, it is becoming increasingly difficult to cooperate
on breeding within the ram circles. This may be offset somewhat by advances in AI
technology. However, and especially for goats, AI is a costly, and so far still unreliable,
Pricing strategies were used to meet the industry’s and the consumers’ demand for more
meatiness. As a result, there has been a trend towards meatier breeds. Niche production, such
as meat from feral sheep, can also to a certain degree enhance the use of different breeds.
The increasing predator populations in certain areas are another aspect. This could result in a
shift towards producing more sheepmeat on cultivated pastures, which in turn would lead to a
shift towards using larger, heavier breeds in such intensive farming systems.
In many countries, the demands on efficiency have tempted many farmers to import breeding
stock of breeds developed predominantly for improved performance. In Norway, this led to
the termination of the national breeding programmes for laying hens and broilers. The
consequences for other animal species have not been as dramatic. However, there is
increasing cooperation with other Nordic breeding organizations on the exchange of breeding
Norwegian pig breeding cooperates with the Finnish breeding organization FABA. All
Yorkshire semen is now imported from Finland. However, the extent of these imports is
limited, and the effect on the sustainability of Norwegian pig breeding will be minimal.
Norwegian fur breeders have imported many blue fox breeding animals from Finland in order
to obtain larger pelts. We must continue to expect some imports of blue fox from Finland and
minks from Denmark. Even if this does not cause problems for Norwegian breeding work, it
is not desirable due to the risk of introducing detrimental genetic effects and contagious
Throughout Europe, there has been extensive crossbreeding with Holstein-Friesians and
similar high-yielding dairy breeds. As a result, less productive, but perhaps more robust
European breeds have been outcompeted, and can thus be lost as a genetic resource. After the
import restrictions in Norway were lifted, the same development could also have threatened
Norwegian cattle breeding, but so far, breeding organizations in Norway have not mentioned
this as a serious problem.
McInerny and Bennet (2003) conducted a survey of European experts in animal production
and breeding. The surveyed showed that animal breeders considered profitability, food
security, consumer demand and breeding technology to be the main driving forces for changes
within the next 15 years. Animal welfare was ranked further down the list, and given about
the same priority for all animal species. There were some differences in the ranking of other
motives among the various species. For example, food security was ranked highest among
poultry and fish breeders, and fish breeders also ranked product quality and breeding
structures quite high on the list. The survey showed that many breeders expected increased
market influence for processors and retailers and declining farm-gate prices, combined with a
growing market for niche products. Fish breeders expected a significant increase of such
niche markets, as well as increasing costs for the breeding organizations. On the other hand,
the largest decline was expected for the competitiveness of EU producers.
Based on these results, the authors envisioned the future market divided into a “low-cost
market”, based on minimum requirements for animal welfare and areas, and a “high-value
market”, based on regional origin, farm type and subjective quality criteria. A “technoscenario”
is presented, with a development driven by available technology, productivity and a
low cost level. In this scenario, animal breeding will play a major role for increasing
efficiency. In the “eco-scenario”, food differentiation plays a major role, with many different
food types, brands and prices for a broad scope of diverse consumers. This scenario is
dominated by the demand for products with traceable qualities such as animal welfare,
environmental quality, origin and image. Animal breeding will also be important, but more in
the sense of ensuring complex breeding goals associated with animal protection, food
security, environmental quality and biodiversity. To survive in a global market, livestock
farmers in the EU will have to assess their competitive benefits. Animal breeders must choose
between obtaining genetic resources that are adapted to one of these markets (the lowcost/techno
market or the high-value/eco market) or developing breeding lines that can be
used in both scenarios.
Regarding the impact of breeding and reproduction technology within the next 15 years, both
AI technology and selection using gene markers were considered as important. In fish
breeding, sexing and polyploidization were also highly ranked. No breeders expected that
cloning and transgenic technology would have any significant impact on future developments,
independent of animal species.
Even though farmed fish still are at an early stage of their domestication, with selection
having been performed for only a few decades, a rapid selection response has already been
documented for weight gain in several species. Due to fish reproduction and biology, it is
possible to achieve such rapid progress through stringent selection. It is thus important to take
the precautionary measures needed to avoid the occurrence of inbreeding and the negative
development of traits as was observed in species with similar reproductive capacities, e.g.,
broilers and laying hens.
Another reason for being careful and for monitoring selection response is the considerable
lack of biological know-how, e.g., about physiology, behavioural needs and fish welfare, in
an industry that has developed extremely fast. This applies to the direct response to those
traits selected for, as well as to any correlated responses in other traits.
In the salmon industry, a few breeding populations have quickly become much more efficient
than their non-improved and wild relatives, and thus, have come to dominate the market. As a
result, salmon farmers lack the same diversity of breeds as can be found in other livestock
species – a diversity necessary for crossbreeding and infusion of “new blood”. Crossing
farmed fish with wild fish would result in considerable losses, due to the wild breeding
stock’s inferior performance traits. The farmed fish populations are therefore highly
vulnerable, increasing the need for restricting inbreeding and developing alternative strategies
for the (re-)introduction of genetic variation.
In contrast to the cooperatively organized breeding work for all other livestock species in
Norway (with the exception of poultry, for which there are no national programmes), salmon
breeding enterprises are owned and operated by private breeding companies. These are either
managed by specific limited companies (AquaGen and SalmoBreed) or as subsidiaries in a
larger fish farming corporation (e.g., Marine Harvest). The very first salmon breeding
programme was cooperatively managed by Norsk Lakseavl, which in turn was owned by the
Association of Norwegian Fish Farmers. After the liquidation of the Fish Farmers’ Sales
Cooperative, the breeding programme was taken over by private players in 1992, and
organized as Aqua Gen AS.
These companies conduct traditional breeding activities such as phenotype testing, sibling
testing and breeding-value appraisal, but also production and sales of spawn, fry, smolt and
consumer fish. Three companies are mainly responsible for conducting advanced, familytesting
based breeding programmes in Norway. All fish farmers have equal access to the
genetic improvements, and the breeding system is now able to supply enough spawn to cover
the entire industry’s demand. One of the companies (Marine Harvest) is now foreign-owned,
following Nutreco’s purchase of Hydro Seafood.
Sustainability in fish breeding
Since fish breeding is carried out by private breeding companies, detailed breeding plans are
not public documents. However, the companies claim that their breeding programmes are
sound, taking inbreeding and multiple traits sufficiently into consideration. For example,
salmon breeding focussed to begin with mainly on performance, i.e., weight gain and
maturity. Eventually, other traits such as fat contents, fat distribution and meat colour were
included. Recently, the focus on resistance against specific diseases is being emphasized in
breeding. This is important for the fish themselves, producers and consumers alike. The
Norwegian fish farming industry feels it should pioneer in this field, since Norway already
has extensive experience from breeding for disease resistance in other livestock species, e.g.,
cattle. Breeding for disease resistance in Norwegian salmon and trout would increase the
sustainability of the industry, and the know-how could be transferred to other species.
To test and rank families with regard to resistance, groups within each family are infected
with a disease agent, and the resulting fish mortality is recorded. These test fish presumably
suffer, but their suffering is justified by the reasoning that a much larger number of fish can
later be spared for similar suffering as a result of improved disease resistance. On the other
hand, one could say that this is not very relevant to diseases for which the fish are vaccinated
against anyway. However, such considerations cannot be applied to humans, and one must
thus ask if it is ethically justifiable to do so with animals, including fish.
During the past decade, the trend in the aquaculture industry has clearly been a concentration
to less, but larger fish farming enterprises. New technology is continuously being developed,
and new species, such as cod and halibut, are being introduced as farmed species. The greatest
present threats to the industry are international competition and the access to sufficient feed
supplies, especially of marine fat and protein. Public opinion is another important factor. As a
esult, the aquaculture industry has become very aware of and has drastically reduced its use
The salmon louse (Lepeophtheirus salmonis) is presumably the major health and welfare
problem in the aquaculture industry today. Furthermore, it is also an ecological problem, since
the lice multiply in fish farms, and then spread to the wild salmon population. Chemical
treatment is used to combat the louse nowadays. However, moderate genetic variation has
been shown for resistance to the salmon louse, and thus it may be possible to reduce the
problems caused by lice through selection.
Genetic impact of escaped farmed fish on wild fish
The conservation of the genetic diversity of wild salmon populations is important, both to
maintain the wild salmon populations and as a source of potentially valuable diversity for
future breeding work. However, it is difficult to totally prevent farmed fish from escaping, so
there will always be some interaction with wild fish. Genetic variation in the farmed fish
populations can provide a basis for natural selection to counteract the loss of fitness in the
affected wild populations. Breeding programmes based on many families and broad breeding
goals will help to maintain such genetic variation and avoid the loss and fixation of alleles.
The use of broodstock from several local populations in the establishment of a breeding
programme’s base population also reduces the risk of introducing new alleles in local
populations via escaped farmed fish. The use of transgenic fish presumably increases the risk
of introducing alien alleles that do not occur in the wild populations. Such fish thus represent
an increased ecological risk.
Tufto (2001) modelled the effects of migration on the population size and evolution of a
quantitative trait. He concluded that genetic difference between wild and farmed fish
populations was especially important for the effect of farmed fish on wild fish populations. A
moderate genetic gain thus reduces the probability of a negative effect on the wild fish
populations. Of course, this is less desirable for the fish farmers. Alternatively, one could
imagine that large, rapid genetic improvements would be more favourable, since this would
reduce the fitness of the farmed fish to such a degree that a genetic contribution from these to
the next generation of wild fish could be avoided.
Neutral alleles without any effect on the fitness of wild fish can be lost in the farmed fish
populations as a result of random drift. The loss of alleles can then be transferred to the wild
populations through the long-term impact from escaped farmed fish. Alleles that are neutral
today may, however, play an important role for fitness in the future. An option would thus be
to cross the farmed fish with individuals from wild populations to reduce the risk of losing
such alleles. Crossing different breeding populations is another, and perhaps easier and less
costly strategy for the prevention of such allele losses.
The use of sterile, triploid farmed fish has also been suggested as a way to prevent the genetic
impact on wild fish populations. However, this strategy is costly, due to slower growth, it may
provoke ethical concerns among consumers and there may be unknown ecological effects of
unchecked growth, since triploid fish do not reach sexual maturity.
Exporting Norwegian cattle and pig genes
GENO, the breeding association for Norwegian Red (NRF), has been actively exporting
semen for more than 10 years. NRF semen has been sold to, among others, Australia, Ireland,
New Zealand and the USA. Several farmers in California are cooperating on the use of NRF
semen on their Holstein herds in order to reduce problems such as poor calf vitality as well as
poor fertility and reduced longevity of their cows. The farmers were not satisfied with the
performance of the Holsteins, especially in the transition to a seasonal calving regime and
So far, the export of NRF material has shown promising results. This could lead to the access
to large, international markets for exported NRF semen, for use in such Holstein crosses. It is
interesting to note that the interest for NRF abroad has developed without having to adapt the
Norwegian breeding goal to foreign markets. Rather, the interest can be traced to the
Norwegian breeding programme and goals themselves, which are seen as a feasible
alternative to the material provided by the large international breeding companies. Profits
from GENO exports would help to secure the implementation of GENO’s domestic breeding
activities in the years ahead.
Due to Norway’s unique animal health status and the high quality of its breeding stock,
Norsvin also has a good basis for exporting genetic material. Feedback from earlier exports
have shown that very few, if any, other breeds surpass the Norwegian pig regarding health.
Furthermore, feed efficiency and weight gain of Norwegian fattening pigs rank among the
best worldwide. The breed’s meat quality is considered to be relatively good, and Norway is
investing considerable resources to make further improvements.
Exporting live animals from Norway without demanding future royalty payments is
economically not very viable, since one has no control of how these genes are utilized. Due to
Norway’s high price and cost level, the bulk export of hybrid animals is also not an option.
The business concept of Norsvin International (NI) is thus to establish daughter populations
within selected markets, thereby propagating the genetic material locally through sales of live
animals and semen. This is either performed via companies in which NI has ownership
interests or via partners with which NI has agreements. Financial returns to NI are assured via
royalties and/or ownership profits. The objective of these activities is to secure the long-term
funding of Norsvin’s R&D activities.
Access and rights to genetic resources
The Convention on Biodiversity (CBD) was ratified by more than 180 countries, and came
into effect in 1993 with the aim of protecting valuable genetic resources of wild and
domesticated plants and animals. Important principles of the CBD include the equitable
sharing of the benefits arising from the use of genetic resources and safeguarding national
property rights to genetic resources under national control and legislature. Among others, this
implies that the country of origin of genetic resources shall be able to give its informed prior
consent to the utilization and possible patenting of genes, that it can place demands on the
sharing of future income and be granted access to technology and new knowledge. The
objective is that the country of origin shall be able to earn its share of future profits from
products or services based on its genetic resources. The CBD proposes that countries shall
have the sovereign right to decide on the use of their genetic resources, comparable to
Norway’s sovereignty regarding its fossil fuel resources in the North Sea. There is a need to
further develop and effectuate more specific national guidelines for dealing with these
ownership rights. Norway has followed up the CBD within several areas, but national
guidelines for how to manage ownership of genetic resources are still lacking. The Norwegian
government has appointed a committee to formulate a bill on the access to genetic material.
The committee submitted its final report to the government in December 2004. As a result of
being included in the EEA Agreement, the Norwegian Patents Act has been changed in
support of the Convention on Biodiversity. Thus, anyone applying for a patent must state the
country of origin or the country supplying the genetic resources in the patent application, and
also provide evidence that consent was given to utilize the genetic resource.
Breeding companies must protect their genetic material to ensure their share of the benefits of
genetic improvement, and to cover investments and costs related to the breeding programme.
For prolific animals such as poultry or fish, pirate breeding of just a few individuals can be
extremely efficient and lead to considerable losses for the breeding companies. Protective
strategies such as hybrid breeding have often been used, e.g., in pig and poultry breeding,
whereas royalty agreements have been made between breeding companies and buyers for pigs
and various fish species.
The new patent directive allows genes to be patented. Now, a gene can be patented if it is
isolated from its natural environment or produced technically. Even if it is identical to the
the gene that naturally existed as part of an organism, it is now not seen as a discovery.
Although owners of rights cannot demand their rights from farmers or breeders who own
animals with such a naturally occurring gene, they can demand royalties on the new use of the
gene proposed by them. It is also not permitted to patent plant varieties, animal breeds or
biological processes that are essential for the production of plants and animals (e.g., crossing
and other traditional breeding methods). However, the concept of varieties and breeds is often
vague. For example, it can be difficult to distinguish and classify animals by their breed. On
the other hand, it is possible to patent animals that are genetically modified, with parts of their
genome having been technically altered in a way that could not occur naturally. This includes
transgenic or otherwise genetically modified fish. Genetically modified farmed salmon, which
grows faster and tolerates colder water, has already been produced in Canada. The fish is
owned by the American company A/F Proteins, which hopes that the salmon can be used
commercially in Canada, Chile, New Zealand and the USA. Norway has bred an equally fastgrowing
salmon, but only by using non-controversial selection methods and by utilizing the
natural genetic diversity found in Norwegian salmon.
Norwegian salmon farmers know that the European market is extremely critical of and
sensitive to the issue of GMO-foods. Today’s consumers demand higher quality, and are
becoming increasingly aware of the intentional and unintentional health effects of food. There
is also growing concern for the production environment and the methods used in food
production. Gene patenting and the production of genetically modified salmon is therefore a
rather unsuitable strategy with regard to maintaining the important European market for
Norwegian farmed salmon. A restrictive approach to the use of genetically modified salmon is
also necessary to avoid ecological problems and potential negative effects on human health.
Instead, we should rather promote the conservation and utilization of the genetic diversity of
Norwegian salmon populations as a strategy for developing a competitive alternative to
genetically modified salmon.
An alternative strategy for protecting the rights to breeding material could be to patent a
technique used to find a marker gene that is linked to a gene with a considerable effect on a
valuable trait in the fish. To secure complete protection, this gene must either only occur in
this one population, or one must avoid selling the rights to others who could find and select
for the same gene in other populations. This could, de facto, have the same effect as patenting
a gene. In any case, this would ensure income for the breeding company that invests in
genetic improvement, but could also result in the loss of genetic diversity and prevent the
development of a broader genetic basis.
Ethical concerns have been raised about the issue of patenting plants, animals and their genes.
Genes are the “code of life”, which we regard as part of the common human heritage, and are
fundamentally important for the production of food.
Status of Norwegian Animal Breeding – A summary
To summarize the previous chapter on Norwegian animal breeding, we would like to present
important challenges that are based on the current status and future perspectives:
o Use of the term ”sustainability” to cover all goals and without making priorities and
selecting a focus will eventually undermine the term, deriving it of its meaning.
o Economic and political developments, with growing pressure on business efficiency,
favour the use of short-term, symptom-related solutions lacking a comprehensive
approach, e.g., via exaggerated increases in productivity. As a result, smaller and less
efficient farmers are left behind – farmers who could help to maintain less efficient
breeds, such as historical breeds, with other valuable traits.
o The demand for genetic material from Norwegian breeding organizations is declining
due to its poor short-term economic ”efficiency”. Such material is outcompeted and
replaced by stock from foreign breeding companies with less sustainable breeding
o Estrangement of farmers/breeders, consumers and the general public with regard to
breeding goals and methods as a result of lacking involvement in and insufficient
information on decision-making processes. Lack of focus on ethical aspects of animal
welfare, environmental issues and the long-term effects of breeding on future
o Inappropriate development of traits that are important for animal health and welfare,
the environment and resource utilization.
o Increased inbreeding and loss of genetic diversity as a result of one-sided and too
o Uncritical use of new biotechnology (e.g., selection for QTL 2 without prior
assessment of the consequences), with unfavourable side effects on other traits, or for
animals under different environmental conditions, which may be important in future
o Lack of suitable methods for protection of improved genetic material may result in
decreasing investments in the breeding of prolific species, such as fish.
o Stringent restrictions on the access to genetic material through patents and high
royalties could also reduce the possibilities for further breeding activities and result in
decreasing interest in future investments in breeding programmes.
New possibilities based on the current status and future perspectives mentioned in the
o Product development and marketing of local, traditional or otherwise certified
products (e.g., organic), based on specific breeds or other traits. This can create new
markets, in which higher prices can be obtained, thus covering the losses from using
less productive animal stock.
o Exporting genetic material with unique and popular traits (e.g., the Norwegian Red
cattle breed, which combines good health and fertility with moderate, but still fairly
high milk yields) can generate profits that can be used for further investments in
2 QTL=Quantitative Trait Loci, a gene with a significant effect on a quantitative trait
o Developing and utilizing ways to protect genetic material (patents, royalties or
biological methods) could ensure increased profitability of breeding programme
Criteria for Sustainable Animal Breeding
In their contribution to the SEFABAR Project, Gamborg and Sandøe (2003) conclude that
work ahead on sustainability in the context of farm animal breeding and
reproduction needs to take into account that:
1. There is no single correct concept of sustainability. It is a question, not of reaching a
true, well-defined goal, but of becoming ‘more or less sustainable’. Specific methods
to follow up on this involve comparing, analysing and developing actual definitions
and goals of sustainability — as elaborated by the working parties and from literature
available. Moreover, they involve a grasp and the correct use of relevant terminology
(e.g. ‘principles’, ‘definition’, ‘criteria’ and ‘indicators’).
2. A distinction must be made between ‘factual’ discussion and the making of value
judgements. To distinguish these two varieties of speech it is necessary to identify
value judgements inherent in the working parties’ understandings (including
definitions and criteria) of sustainable farm animal breeding. It is also necessary to be
aware of the trade-offs entailed by the sustainability criteria so that one can appreciate
the ethical dilemmas involved in working towards more sustainable farm animal
breeding and reproduction.
3. Dilemmas are inherent in sustainability, so key concerns will always need to be
balanced. This balancing of concerns is at the core of sustainability discussions.
Sustainability does not signify a single set of pre-fixed values and concerns. However,
it can be seen as representing a willingness to set an ethical agenda. Key ethical
aspects associated with the value judgements need to be brought out. The specific
methods involved are to identify and analyse key ethical aspects of farm animal
breeding goal setting, planning and practice. Such aspects may include animal welfare,
animal integrity, animal health, biodiversity, environmental protection, consumer
safety, food quality, and competitiveness.
4. In order to achieve more sustainable practices, there is also a need for clearer
prioritisation, increased transparency and improved stakeholder dialogue. One of the
most important aims when farm animal breeding and reproduction industry and
academia try to work towards more sustainable breeding and reproduction practices is
to be able to explain goals and give good reasons for actions undertaken to all
stakeholders. Key issues to consider are the need for: (a) clear prioritisation of goals,
(b) transparency with regard to prioritisation and (c) stakeholder dialogue.
This is in accordance with the procedure proposed by Olesen et al. (2000) for defining
breeding goals for sustainable animal production (see pages 11-12). Gamborg and Sandøe
(2002) and Fimland et al. (2004) presented sustainability checklists for animal breeding
(Tables 1 and 2). Based on these and the summary presented in the previous chapter, we
propose the following criteria for sustainable animal breeding:
Criteria for sustainable animal breeding:
1. Definition of the term ’sustainability’ with specific focus on clear, and also ethical
priorities between contradicting breeding goals.
2. Assessment of market and product, and of the animal production system and
environment. What are the critical factors?
3. Documented breeding plan including:
- Breeding goal in accordance with the priorities specified above (criterion 1) and the
production environment (criterion 2).
- Detailed overview of breeding measures, such as registration and selection
procedures in accordance with the breeding goal and production environment.
4. Well-documented, sufficiently large effective population size and, if possible, a low
inbreeding rate (< 0.5 % per generation).
5. Predicted selection response for traits in the breeding goal and other traits of
importance for animal health and welfare.
6. Calculation of the breeding programme’s profitability.
7. Monitoring direct and correlated selection responses.
8. Enabling a dialog with consumer and animal protection organizations (and perhaps
other NGOs and stakeholders) to ensure that the breeding programme is acceptable in
terms of the CBD, animal protection legislature and other public demands.
Table 1. Checklist for adapting sustainability in animal breeding (Gamborg and Sandøe,
What concept of
included / not
1. Ideal or vision of sustainability
2. The kind of definition used
3. List of included concerns – and why they exist
Productivity Production/cost efficiency Competitiveness
Food/product quality Consumer safety Animal integrity
Animal health Animal welfare Biodiversity
Wise use of resources Environmental protection Other
How are the
What are the
4. List of concerns which have not been included – and why
5. Statement of the key concerns
6. Clear breeding and reproduction policy in relation to each of the key concerns
7. Qualitative or quantitative criteria available between potentially conflicting
8. Overview of priorities between potentially conflicting concerns/criteria
9. Motivation of stated priorities available
How is this
the rest of society?
10. Definitions, breeding goals, selected concerns, identified criteria, ensuing
priorities, and policies explained
(a) within the agricultural community
(b) to the rest of society/other stakeholders
Table 2. Checklist for sustainable breeding programmes (Fimland et al. 2004)
Is the market and product well defined?
o Defining production system (e.g. purebred vs. crossbred, intensive vs.
o Are expected trends in political, economic and social attitudes described
o Is the need for marketing assessed
Is the breeding goal well defined?
o Considering income from and costs of production
o Considering animal health and welfare
o Accepted by consumers and used by animal breeders
Is sensitivity to environmental factors addressed?
o Fluctuations and trends in the market
o Backup to account for unexpected situations (diseases, accidents)
o Food safety
o Genotype-environment interactions
o Consumer and producer acceptance of selection and reproduction techniques
Are resources available?
o Human / knowledge
Can population size and selection strategies secure a sufficiently large effective
o Rates of inbreeding below ½ to 1% per generation.
Is recording sufficient?
o To obtain response in all components of the breeding goal
o To detect undesirable changes in animal health and welfare
Are expected effects of selection predicted?
o Genetic trends for all traits in the breeding goal
o Are marginal effects of changes in recording documented
o Genetic trends for important traits not in the breeding goal
Is genetic progress monitored and evaluated?
Are time horizon and milestones defined?
o For evaluation of predicted and realised genetic progress
o For evaluation of market and breeding goal set
o For economic evaluation of the breeding scheme
Is the profitability of the breeding scheme evaluated?
Breeding Guidelines and Requirements
Fimland et al (2004) proposed guidelines for sustainable management of genetic resources. A
revised version of these guidelines, which we recommend as the guidelines for sustainable
farm animal breeding, is presented below. The original recommendations are presented in
Some of these guidelines apply on the national level, while most are intended for breeding
organizations. To completely fulfil their national responsibility, the authorities should pass
legislature demanding sustainable management in directives for the approval of breeding
programmes for commercial populations and populations subject to some form of breed
conservation measures. The authorities should require that breeding organizations annually
define and report on sustainability indicators and associated critical risk factors, e.g., effective
population size, breeding goals, management of genetic variation, production environment for
testing and selection (G×E) and the conservation of breed variation. The Nordic countries
should make an agreement on the collection of information about each breed in order to
assess risk status. Breeding organizations should generally be stimulated to ensure the
sustainability of their operations, and to enable other stakeholders to access relevant
Table 3. Guidelines for sustainable management of genetic resources (modified version, based
on Fimland et al, 2004).
1. Developing human resources:
• Qualified human resources are needed, including farmers, breeders, advisers, teachers,
scientists and the general public.
• Farmers and breeders should acquire a basic understanding of the concepts of breeding
merit/selection index, the effects of selection on single and multiple traits, the effects
of close breeding and small breeding populations on inbreeding, the consequences of
alternative selection systems (phenotype tests, progeny tests, sibling tests, etc.), effects
of crossbreeding, and safeguarding and improving product quality.
• Advisers must have an understanding for the issues mentioned above, enabling them
to teach and train farmers and breeders. They must also have a basic understanding of
the principles of genetic resource conservation.
• The awareness of the general public should be enhanced regarding such issues as the
basic differences between sustainable and non-sustainable production systems, the
excellent results achieved by Norway’s sustainable breeding programmes, animals’
adaptation to their environment, the history of animal breeding, farm animals as a
genetic resource, the need for breed conservation and the importance of animals in
maintenance of rural communities, environment and landscape.
• Knowledge transfer and information (teaching, advisory services, Internet,
professional journals, recording schemes, cooperation, R&D, mass media).
• Recording and information. Unique animal IDs and compatible databases with
common ID and data on parentage, production and reproduction from on-farm testing,
perhaps test stations and nucleus breeding, diseases (cases and treatments, recorded by
veterinarian and/or farmer), quality traits (from processors, dairies, slaughterhouses,
etc.) and genome analysis, perhaps tissue for future DNA analysis.
• Cooperation with farmers’ and breeders’ associations, recording schemes, elite
breeders, food-processing industry, veterinarians and advisory services at the national,
Nordic and international level. Cooperatively organized breeding programmes
automatically ensure cooperation with producers/farmers/breeders, and may thus be
appropriate for achieving transparent, democratic decision-making processes.
• Nordic cooperation with other Norwegian/Nordic/European breeding organizations
with matching interests and goals could be an asset with regard to selection intensity
and maintaining a low inbreeding rate. However, such cooperation should be balanced
with the need for democratic decision-making, under consideration of possible loss of
genetic diversity resulting from too much interbreeding with foreign genetic material.
• R&D and support services
- Research cooperation with other breeding organizations
- Combining databases
- Policy framework provided by national government and the EU
- International research cooperation
• Consumer and public opinion
- Dialogue and open communication with consumers, the general public and producers
- Discussions on animal welfare, environmental effects, biotechnology, traceability,
quality control, etc.
3. Identification of farm animal genetic resources:
• Characterization of between-breed and within-breed diversity.
• Breed characterization: Risk of loss, environmental adaptation, economic value,
degree of unique characteristics, cultural, historical and social value, and degree of
• Professional expertise should be utilized
• Involve the local producers throughout the entire process
• Perform a SWOT analysis
• Develop a business plan
• Greater emphasis should be placed on quality, e.g., when paying farmers. Link
animals to genetic merits for quality traits.
• National cooperative breeding programs should have a marketing department. Market
both animal stock and their products.
5. Utilizing & developing farm animal genetic resources
• Breeding goals and plans need to be developed in a completely participative process,
in which farmers/breeders, consumers and the processing industry understand and
support the breeding goal. Take necessary considerations to trends (consumer
demands, etc.) within the general framework provided by society and to the biological
interactions of the production system. In addition to short-term market considerations,
one must also consider other, more long-term and value-based factors, e.g., by
including both market economic and non-market economic weighting for the traits in
the breeding goal.
• Evaluate if the desired data are recorded and accessible (with regard to the breeding
• Having knowledge about, understanding and using genetic parameters, including
genetic correlations between the traits that are recorded or included in the breeding
goal. Develop model structures for populations (number of dams per sire, number of
male/female progeny, selection time and available observations). Use multi-trait
selection indexes (or BLUP breeding values), and determine the reliability of the
index/breeding value, expected selection difference for breeding goal traits, precision
sensitivity of genetic parameters and economic weights in the breeding goal.
Unfavourable, unintentional side effects from selection on other traits should also be
• Evaluate populations across national borders, when possible and appropriate with
regard to increasing population size and selection intensity, and when it is possible to
correct for herd effects. Select from entire population and/or provide semen from elite
sires in all countries to animal breeders in all countries. The risk of losing valuable and
unique genetic variants from extensive crossbreeding must be carefully considered.
• Use of genome information (QTL) could be appropriate, e.g., in marker selection,
especially for traits that otherwise are difficult to record or that only can be recorded in
one of the genders, after slaughter, late in life, etc. Before applying such selection, one
should also have assessed possible unintentional side effects of selection on other
traits or on the same trait under different environmental conditions (environmental
• Be wary of inbreeding – avoid too strong selection, selection of too many relatives
(siblings or overuse of a small number of elite sires) and close breeding. Perhaps, use
quadratic indices with restrictions on inbreeding rate.
6. Breed conservation:
Annually define and report on sustainability indicators and associated critical risk factors,
e.g., effective population size, breeding goals, management of genetic variation,
production environment for testing and selection (G×E) and the conservation of breed
Choosing the strategy
• Determine the causes of the decline of the endangered breed
• In-situ conservation should be used whenever possible
• Ex-situ conservation, e.g., cryoconservation, should only be used as a complement
to in-situ conservation within the scope of a broader conservation programme. The
priority material for cryoconservation should be semen before embryos.
• An ex-situ conservation plan needs a financial plan to cover costs of establishment
and long-term operations.
• An in situ live conservation project should move towards self-financing.
• Minimisation of inbreeding is generally obtained by minimum co-ancestry
selection and long generation intervals.
• Prioritizing breeds for conservation should be based on acceptable levels of
genetic, cultural and environmental values.
7. Monitoring farm animal genetic resources
• Breed populations should be estimated to a precision of < 10 % error with a
probability of 0.9. Record number of breeding sires and breeding dams. Geographic
distribution, social, economic and genetic risk factors.
• The demographic trends of each recognized breed should be updated at least every
three years, and promptly following any significant change of livestock production.
• Genetic changes of recorded traits, preferably analyzed in a multi-trait model every
• Breeding organizations should perform a self-assessment (usually every third year) of:
Breeding goal: type of traits, assessment of inputs and waste, involved parties,
decision-making process, production system, expected development of the production
Selection methods: active management through selection and under necessary
consideration of inbreeding. Decide upon maximum acceptable inbreeding rate.
Number of managed breeding lines and number of breeds represented
Effective population size
Environmental effect: which trends associated with the population could have an
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could be taken?
Compliance with public policies, laws and regulations
Compliance with the sustainability checklist (see pages XX-XX)
• All large-scale (>1000 animals) studies of individual performance in populations for
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• Breeding organisations should be encouraged to make information relevant to
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Guidelines for sustainable management of genetic resources (Fimland et al, 2004).
1. Developing human resources:
• Education should cover the contents of the checklist on page xx
• More PhD level courses are needed
• Increase the awareness of the general public about animal genetic diversity as the
fundamental resource it is for real- and potential value creation in future
• Long history of attention paid in Nordic countries to sustainable production systems,
• Maintenance of livestock production is integral part of national landscape and
environment, and maintains rural communities
• More intensive courses are needed, this may be achieved by more flexible
collaboration between Nordic universities
• Internet will be the most important tool for exchanging information
• More information needed on health and quality traits
• Genomic data should be better utilised in genetic evaluation, selection and mating
• Animal ID´s are linking genetic and production chain and suffice the trace ability
• More efforts should be done to improve the collaboration between the stakeholders in
• Different databases should be analysed jointly to arrive at new powerful tools for
selection and management
• All Animal Genetic resources should be characterized with respect to points
concerning genetic, cultural and environmental values.
• Marketing of the products is of utmost importance.
• Involve the local producers into the marketing/ image painting process.
• A solid business plan is highly needed.
• Greater emphasis should be placed on quality when paying farmers.
• National cooperative breeding programs should have a marketing department to help
maintain a viable breeding sector
5. Utilising & developing AnGR
• Breeding goals need to be developed in fully participatory approach
• Breeding goals must be developed only after having fully considered the trends frame
• The understanding of genetic correlations between the traits is a key factor in intensive
• Longitudinal data is evaluated with random regression models
• The residuals from the genetic evaluation are used for management and economic
decision making i.e. estimate fixed effects and predict expected production
• Where there are sufficient genetic links over countries and possibility to eliminate
herd environmental effects, the populations should be evaluated as one in dairy cattle
and pigs (the herd effects related to sire-effects are like 10:1 and even worse for low
• There are strong reasons for implementing quadratic indices with restricting on rate of
6.1. National responsibilities:
• The national authority may include requirements of sustainability managements into
the directive of national clearance of licensed breeding schemes, embracing as well
active breeds as breeds under in vivo conservations.
• The indicators of sustainable managements and its critical risk values should be
defined and reported yearly to the national authority, these indicators may be:
o Effective population size
o Use of sustainable breeding goals
o Management of genetic variation
o Selection in production environment instead of high-input-output environment
o Maintains between breed variation
6.2. Choosing the strategy:
• Determine the causes of the decline of the endangered breed.
• In-situ conservation should be used whenever possible
• Ex-situ conservation should only be used as a complement to in-situ conservation
• Cryoconservation should be used as an adjunct of a wider conservation programme,
• The priority material for cryoconservation should be semen before embryos
• An ex-situ conservation plan (cryo or live) needs a proper financial plan to cover costs
of setting up and long-term running
• An in situ live conservation project should move towards self-financing.
• Minimisation of inbreeding is generally obtained by minimum co-ancestry selection
• Prioritizing breeds for conservation should be based on reaching acceptable levels
with respect to points concerning genetic, cultural and environmental values
7. Monitoring AnGR
• Numbers within breeds should be estimated to a precision of < 10 % error with a
probability of 0.9
• Agreement should be sought among Nordic countries on a minimal set of ancillary
information on each breed that should be collected to help assess endangerment status
• The demographic trends of each recognised breed should be updated at least every 3
years, and more promptly following any significant shift in livestock production
• Every large-scale (>1000 animals) study of individual performance in populations for
the purpose of monitoring should be made to be amenable to genetic analysis
• Multivariate analysis of genetic associations should be carried out every 3 years for
• Breeding organisations should be encouraged to set policies on sustainability and
make information relevant to sustainability available to other stakeholders