The genetic diversity of livestock can play a vital role in feeding the world in the face of hotter weather and the other effects of climate change, yet many valuable breeds continue to be at risk, the United Nations agricultural agency warned today, calling for stronger global efforts to safeguard the existing gene pool.

“Genetic diversity is a prerequisite for adaptation in the face of future challenges,” UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) Director-General José Graziano da Silva said, releasing a new agency report highlighting the need to ensure that animal genetic resources are used to promote global food security and remain available for future generations.

Indiscriminate cross-breeding is the main cause of genetic erosion, according to the FAO’sSecond Report on the State of the World’s Animal Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture, which also cited the increasing use of non-native breeds, weak regulation, the decline of traditional production and neglect of breeds considered not competitive enough.

Beyond climate change, future challenges include emerging diseases, pressure on land and water, and shifting market demands, which make it more important than ever to ensure animal genetic resources are conserved and used sustainably.

Cross-breeding, embraced by developing countries which import genetic material to enhance milk productivity and speed up an animal’s path to maturity, can lead to loss of valuable characteristics such as the ability to cope with extremes of temperature, limited water supplies, poor-quality feed, rough terrain, high altitudes and other challenging environmental conditions.