Breed4Food seminar: Facing the challenges in the animal production system

Published on
May 27, 2022

On Thursday April 7th about 70 participants were present in Ouwehands Zoo, with another 17 online, to mark the end of the 2nd and beginning of the 3rd joint research program of Breed4Food. The goal of Breed4Food is to contribute with research and development in the field of animal breeding and genetics to sustainable production of (dairy) cattle, pigs, broilers, layers, turkeys and aquaculture. The first part of the seminar focused on utilizing DNA information and precision phenotyping. The second part focused on how breeders can engage in a dialogue with society.

Utilizing DNA information and precision phenotyping

Mario Calus and Yvette de Haas (Wageningen University & Research) gave an overview of what has been achieved in genomic prediction and the use of DNA information in animal breeding. They also discussed new breeding goals and new phenotypes. Phenotyping of animals started more than 100 years ago. Until the 1980's the focus was on production and conformation traits, but since then breeding goals have broadened. Developing the core engine for genomic prediction (also for new phenotypes) has been, and remains to be, one of the central themes in Breed4Food.

One application that was highlighted in the seminar was the ability of single-step genomic evaluations to translate the vast body of claw health measurements in cattle into accurate breeding values. Another highlighted study was DNA pooling. Genotyping individual commercial broilers is very expensive, but via DNA pooling a link to the pure lines can be established at low costs. Both are examples of valuable applications that were developed within Breed4Food.

Dialogue with society

Keynote speaker Jan Staman (Council on Animal Affairs) stated that, on the one hand, livestock animals are viewed as companion animals that belong to our households, but, on the other hand, they are also viewed as a ‘plague’ or a problem. It is a tricky problem which is almost impossible to tackle by the breeders because of incomplete, contradictory, and changing requirements. Consequently, it is important to work on establishing a relationship that is built on trust; social disconnection has to be avoided.

Frank Meijboom (Utrecht University), Marije Klever (dairy farmer and board member ‘Nederlands Agrarisch Jongeren Kontakt’) and Lisanne Stadig (Dutch Society for the Protection of Animals) were introduced as the Advisory Board for the Work Package on ‘Ethics & Society’ of the new Breed4Food program. They stated that, for farmers and breeding companies, it is important to take the contradicting views described by Jan Staman seriously. Breeders should be open and transparent about their role and impact to prevent social disconnection. Overall, the seminar was a valuable kick off for a promising 3rd joint research program of Breed4Food.