Throughout history, foods have ebbed and flowed in popularity and abundance, and few have even disappeared. Compared to historic records, 86% of apple varieties grown in the US alone are gone, for example... compared to pre-1900, about 75% of global farmed plant diversity is gone.The same problem exists with cattle:
“People started using just a couple of breeds for whatever they’re doing – meat, milk, eggs or fibre – in order to get the same sized animals to fit on an assembly line for processing and transportation and – more importantly – to make them grow as quickly as possible,” explains Ryan Walker, marketing and communications manager at the US-based Livestock Conservancy. “Agriculture today is all a numbers game.”More details at the BBC, where the focus of the article is on the importance of the Svalbard Global Seed Vault.
In North America, for example, myriad cattle varieties used to be raised. Today, a single breed – Holstein Friesians – account for 90% of dairy cattle raised in the US, and another 4% are Jersey cattle. All other dairy breeds occupy the remaining 6% sliver.
This change was especially pronounced in the US, but it also took place (and is still taking place) around the world. Today, around 20% of the world’s 8,000 livestock breeds – which include a dozen animals ranging from cows to sheep to ducks to rabbits – are in danger of extinction.