Livestock Genetics Companies: Concentration and proprietary strategies of an emerging power in the global food economy: Susanne Gura, League for Pastoral Peoples and Endogenous Livestock Development, 2007, 25 pages

. . . Hardly noticed by the public, a concentration process is taking place not only in livestock production and processing, but also in the livestock breeding industry. Only four companies supply the majority of genetics for commercial layer hens, broilers, turkeys and other poultry. The production of hybrid end-products and an associated structure, where multiplication and production are separated steps, allow for a de facto proprietary control over the breeding lines. This has strongly contributed to the extremely high concentration. Around two thirds of the world’s broiler and half of the world’s egg production is industrialized.

Pork, which is the most consumed type of meat in the world, is already industrialized to one third of global production. Hybrid pig lines are increasingly used, again with the separation of multipliers and fatteners, so that breeding companies can make sure that their breeding lines are not used by others for further breeding purposes. Concentration is fast increasing, and the genetic monoculture is increasing as well.

In cattle, although there is no hybrid breeding yet, and the animals are usually owned by farms less large than the poultry and pig factories, genetic monoculture has reached a similar level. A bull, with the help of artificial insemination, can have a million offspring. The dairy and meat producing communities cultivate their stars and pay high prices for a straw of frozen semen. Not surprisingly, the artificial insemination companies want to clone their best bulls. Cloning so far is not primarily meant for the dinner plates but to complement gene technologies.

Over past decades, breeding objectives focused almost exclusively on performance: yearly egg production, milk yields, milk fat content, and growth rates. Efforts were concentrated on only a handful of breeds of cattle, pig and chicken. Substantial production increases were thus achieved – but only if the feed quality and quantity to make use of the better feed conversion rate is also provided. As a result, high-yielding livestock populations have be-come genetically very uniform. For most industrial breeds of cattle and pig, the “effective population size”, a parameter used by experts to calculate genetic diversity, corresponds to less than the 100 animals required to maintain a breed. Poultry breeding industry insiders maintain that there is sufficient genetic variability within and between the lines. However, there is no such proven information for poultry – the companies are keeping the breeding lines as trade secrets.

With the onset of gene technology, companies who thus far focused on just one species, started to get interested in others. In 2005, the world’s largest pig and cattle breeding companies PIC and ABS were merged into one company, Genus plc, which also incorporates shrimps genetics. The size of livestock breeding companies as such are medium scale, with so far at most 2000 employees, and annual turnovers probably not exceeding 0,5 billion , where information is available. However, they are usually integrated vertically with feed producing and/or meat processing companies, such as the US meat giant Tyson. The US company Monsanto, better known for its leader-ship in genetically modified seed than in livestock genes, may soon dominate gene markets not only with regard to plants but also livestock, thanks to an aggressive policy of acquisition, cooperation and patent policy in cattle and pig genetics.

The rate of loss of the world’s livestock breeds has recently accelerated to one breed per month, while it was around one breed per year on average during the last century. Trade liberalization contributes to an unprecedented growth in international trade of livestock products, and it is not the products of smallholders that are moved around the globe. On the contrary, smallholder products are often wiped off markets once a trade agreement allows foreign products in or sanitary standards tighten. Smallholders get a tiny fraction, if at all, of the subsidy support industrial production and trade is receiving.

Regulations usually work against smallholders and in favour of industrial production, although smallholders in some countries contribute up to one third to the nation’s economy.

Alternatives are rather diminishing than increasing. The slowly but steadily growing global organic sector has problems to find livestock adapted to is production systems, especially in poultry. Local breeding in developing countries is usually not supported by national policies or development organizations.

The United Nations are currently raising the issue of the erosion of genetic resources, and the resulting threats for livelihoods and agricultural biodiversity. In Europe, where awareness about the roles and values of breeds has already reached the political level, conservation programmes are being implemented. Thus, no more breeds have been lost in some of the European countries.

However, what is being lost is food and cultural diversity, and food sovereignty. We also experience increased public health problems due to excess livestock based food intake, as well as animal welfare and disease problems, and environmental pollution. A few globally operating genetics companies deter-mine what choice consumers have. Acting as if consumers all over the world want ever larger quantities of ever cheaper meat, milk and eggs without caring for environmental, social and cultural impact, they are expanding their market.

One particular conclusion of this report says that despite the appearances of high yields and enormously improved feed conversion rates, industrial livestock production carries with it many hidden costs, including
Ӣ Costs for cleaning up the environment (water, soil, and air) from livestock production effluents.
Ӣ Costs for treating human diseases caused by overconsumption of livestock products
Ӣ Costs for containing the spread of zoonotic diseases that increase in virulence when passing through dense, genetically similar livestock holdings such as avian flu.
Ӣ Costs for . . . conservation programmes necessary to maintain genetic diversity.

To this list one must also add the high costs of energy use in feed and meat production at every stage and in transportation of feeds and meat (soy from the interior of South America going to Europe to feed intensive livestock production, for example.) The full report is available at