More than a thousand breeds of farm animals are at risk of going extinct.
That’s according to a new report from the United Nations. Rebecca Williams
reports the UN says globalization is the main reason for the extinctions:
More than a thousand breeds of farm animals are at risk of going
extinct. That’s according to a new report from the United Nations.
Rebecca Williams reports the UN says globalization is the main
reason for the extinctions:
Some livestock breeds aren’t being raised as much anymore. That’s
because most farmers only want the breeds that can produce a lot of
meat in a short period of time. Fewer breeds means a smaller genetic
pool. So the whole population of livestock isn’t as robust.
Irene Hoffman is with the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization.
She says a larger gene pool protects livestock from things such as new
Hoffman says consumers have a large role in keeping breeds alive.
“The first strategy is always to keep animals in production to keep
them economically competitive.”
But it can be hard for consumers to find these rare breeds. It takes
The report says in just the past 15 years, 190 livestock breeds have
Biologists plant cloned Monkshood starts. (Photo by Julie Grant)
Some are planted in the crevices of rock formations.
The dripping water and dappled sunlight are expected to help the Monkshood survive. (Photo by Julie Grant)
Lots of people worry about the extinction of animal species, but plant conservationists say plants are even more threatened than animals. People are starting to go to great lengths to protect them.
There are banks set up to save seeds and large-scale efforts to educate people about threats to plants. Researchers, park biologists, and others have teamed up in one state to save a type of wildflower. Julie Grant
Lots of people worry about the extinction of animal species. But plant conservationists
say plants are even more threatened than animals. People are starting to go to great
lengths to protect them. There are banks set up to save seeds and large-scale efforts to
educate people about threats to plants. Researchers, park biologists, and others have
teamed up in one state to save a type of wildflower. Julie Grant reports:
Biologist Mike Johnson is trying to walk carefully. He’s balancing a tray of plastic
containers while hiking down damp, sun-dappled cliffs. Each container holds a few starts
of northern monkshood. These wildflowers have only been found in four states.
Johnson is in Gorge Park, one of only three places in Ohio where monkshood have been
“And, in Gorge Metropark they only exist in one area, and that makes them very
vulnerable to both natural and human induced impacts.”
People who walked the Gorge in the 1980s remember seeing thousands of the blue-
hooded wildflowers. But by 2000, there were only 13 of the plants left here. Johnson
says they were being killed by the salt used to melt ice and snow on a recently built
highway. People dug a ditch to divert melted salt that washed off the road. The monkshood have
done a little better since then. There’s now a stand with 190 of them, but
conservationists want to make sure this wildflower survives long term. Today Johnson is
planting new monkshood starts on the opposite side of the River, away from the
“So the goal is to establish satellite populations throughout the Gorge Metropark, so if
for some reason they were to die out in one area, they wouldn’t die out in the park
You might think that Johnson and other plant people could just collect seeds from the
surviving monkshood in order to grow new plants, but the director of conservation at
the Holden Arboretum says seeds aren’t reliable enough. They often don’t grow into
plants. Brian Parsons says that when the monkshood population started to decline, the
Arboretum started looking for new ways to preserve the plant’s genetic diversity:
“The only true way to capture that is to clone the plants, so we made the recommendation
to investigate cloning because scientific literature indicated that plant potentially had the
capacity to respond to that type of propogation.”
The Cincinnati Zoo plant research program specializes in plant cloning. So it cloned the
monkshood that Mike Johnson and another biologist are planting today.
Down in the gorge, they use a trowel to dig around in the rocky soil. They’re looking for
planting conditions that will give the monkshood the best chance to survive:
“Literally, that, over there is perfect. There’s not full sunlight. The trees above are
filtering out a lot of it. Just a little sunlight is getting down to the bottom and you’ve got
cool, clear springs. And even though we have all the surrounding development, there are
still springs in the gorge that are fairly uncontaminated from urban runoff and pollution.”
Water drips onto the biologists from the overhanging rock formations. They plant a
couple of monkshoods right in the crevices of the rocks. The leaves are reminiscent of a
buttercup. They are in the same family of plants. They’re not in bloom now. In the
spring, the delicate blue flowers remind some people of a religious hood. That’s how the
plant got its name.
Once Johnson puts these small monkshood starts in the soil, it’s hard to distinguish them
from the other ground-cover. That’s not a bad thing. Johnson says it’s best if people don’t
know exactly where to find the rare northern monkshood:
Grant: “You think people would poach them or something?”
Johnson: “Yeah. Yeah. It’s possible. We don’t generally try to advertise their location.
Anytime something’s rare, it’s valuable and somebody might want to take it.”
Plant specialists believe each plant species provides a purpose in nature, and might hold
some promise for pharmaceuticals or some other use. They’re just not sure yet what
people can learn from the northern monkshood. That’s why they want to make sure it
A male prairie chicken showing off for the hens. (Photo by Dan Gunderson)
Two prairie chicken cocks making a drumming sound as part of the dance to challenge each other and attract hens. (Photo by Dan Gunderson)
A male prairie chicken inflates the orange sacks on its neck and makes a echoing sound called booming. (Photo by Dan Gunderson)
Most of the native prairie east of the Mississippi is now farmland, but there are still a few isolated spots where remnants of prairie survive… and with them a prairie icon… the greater prairie chicken, but prairie chickens need a lot of habitat… and in places such as Illinois, Wisconsin and other states, only a few hundred birds survive. One state is having better luck, and some of its birds are being moved to help revive other prairie chicken populations. The GLRC’s Dan Gunderson reports:
Most of the native prairie east of the Mississippi is
now farmland, but there are still a few isolated spots
where remnants of prairie survive; and with them a
prairie icon: the greater prairie chicken. But prairie
chickens need a lot of habitat, and in places such as
Illinois, Wisconsin and other states, only a few
hundred birds survive. One state is having better
luck, and some of its birds are being moved to help
revive other prairie chicken populations. The GLRC’s
Dan Gunderson reports:
The prairie chickens are ghostly shapes in the grey
predawn light of this spring morning.
(sound of prairie chickens in)
The cocks cackle as they fight off other males. They
inflate the orange sacks on their necks and make a
mournful echoing sound. Tail feathers erect they strut
about trying to impress the hens, who sit quietly
This 5,000 acre chunk of native prairie in Minnesota
has never been plowed. The prairie chickens have
always lived here. Today it’s owned by the Nature
Conservancy and known as the Bluestem Prairie.
Brian Winter manages the land. This morning he’s in a
small plywood blind counting prairie chickens on their
booming ground. About 40 males are strutting their
“In Minnesota it’s a success story and we hope it gets
to be an even more successful success story than what it is
Genetic diversity is one of the keys to a species
survival. In many states, prairie chickens are so
isolated the gene pool becomes weak. In Minnesota
there are flocks of prairie chickens along the western
edge of the state. Brian Winter says those flocks are
close enough to keep the gene pool from getting
“So there’s interbreeding as birds disperse in the fall.”
(sound of chickens tussling)
“Nice fight just took place right there. The research that’s been done looking at the genetics shows the
Minnesota population is one of the best in terms of
Brian Winter says 20 years ago there were an
estimated 2,000 prairie chickens in Minnesota.
Today the population is approaching 10,000. The
prairie chicken is stable enough in Minnesota that
there’s been a limited hunting season the past two
years. In the past few years, several hundred
Minnesota chickens have helped rebuild populations
in North Dakota, Illinois and Wisconsin. Later this
summer, Minnesota prairie chickens will be captured
and moved by the Wisconsin Prairie Chicken Society,
in an effort to save a population declining in size and
Dave Sample with the Wisconsin DNR says the state
hopes to set aside 15,000 acres of grassland for
prairie chicken habitat in the next ten years. But he
says the birds won’t survive without a genetic infusion.
“In order to increase genetics in a compromised
population you do need to bring an infusion in from
outside. You pretty much have to go where genetics
are good and bring those birds in to mix with ours.”
Sample says there’s no guarantee the Wisconsin
prairie chicken population will survive, but he thinks
expanding the genetic pool will be a big step in the
Earl Johnson is Regional Wildlife Manager for the
Minnesota Department of Natural Resources. He
says the prairie chicken success reflects a
conservation success. Johnson says the federal
Conservation Reserve Program has turned thousands
of acres of marginal farmland back into grassland.
That makes good prairie chicken habitat. Johnson
says Minnesota is very fortunate to have a healthy
prairie chicken population.
“What’s the long term future for the prairie chicken? I’d hate to guess, but we are happy to help any states
that want our assistance by transplanting birds.”
Johnson calls the prairie chicken the prairie poster
child. Hundreds of people come from across the
country every spring to sit in blinds and watch the
mating dance. Johnson says interest is growing every
year. At the Bluestem Prairie, the Nature
Conservancy blinds are full almost every day during
the spring. Brian Winter says people from every state
have traveled here to see the spring spectacle unique
to the prairie grassland.
Despite its success, the prairie chicken population is
only as stable as its habitat. Winter says the prairie
chicken may be the most visible prairie resident, but
what’s good for the prairie chicken is good for many
other species as well.
“It’s going to be meadowlarks and bobolinks and
mallard ducks and a whole variety of grassland birds
that just require grassland habitat to survive, and
without it they’re just not going to be there.”
And that’s going to require larger grassland areas.
Too much of the prairie has disappeared in many
states to support healthy numbers of prairie chickens.
That means if the prairie chicken is to survive more of
the marginal farmland, the poorer quality farmland,
needs to be returned to prairie.
Prairie plants are being lost to development.(Courtesy of Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory)
Many modern medicines come from prairie plants or the fungus that is found beneath them. (Courtesy of Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory)
You’ve heard about the ark Noah built to save the world’s animals. Now comes news of another kind of ark – one designed to help save the world’s plants. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Sandy Hausman has that story:
You’ve heard about the ark Noah built to save the world’s animals. Now
comes news of another kind of ark – one designed to help save the
world’s plants. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Sandy Hausman
has that story:
(Sound of walking through the prairie up then under)
You might say Pati Vitt is looking for the right stock to fill the ark.
She’s dressed in jeans and a t-shirt, her long brown hair in braids, a field
notebook in hand, and a pencil tied to her pants. For nine months of each
year, she wanders along railroad tracks, through old cemeteries and
nature preserves, filling shopping bags with the seeds of prairie plants.
Vitt is a conservation scientist with the Chicago Botanic Garden. She has
studied these plants since she was a child. She knows their Latin names.
She dreams about them at night. She even knows the intimate details of
their reproductive lives:
“One does it having teeny little flowers and taking small little bees, and
another one does it by having huge flowers and lots of nectar and they
have really big bees or maybe a moth that pollinates them.”
And, she says, prairie plants are hearty. Native to the Upper Midwest,
they can handle icy winters and long, hot droughts, but they can’t fight
plows or bulldozers. Farmers and developers have destroyed almost all
the land where prairie plants once grew. Today, one-tenth of one percent
of the original prairie remains.
“That means that what we’re looking at right here is one-tenth of one
percent of the population that this plant once enjoyed. I’m sorry. Even
though there’s a lot in this prairie, this plant should be endangered,
because there are so few acres of its habitat left and everyday we’re
coming and we’re taking more and more of it. The prairie habitat is more
endangered than tropical rainforest.”
That worries Vitt, not only because she thinks the prairie plants are
beautiful, but because they may have value to people. For example, she
says about half of our modern medicines came – originally – from plants
or the fungus found in the soil beneath them.
“If you think about penicillin… penicillin came from mold. We might be
standing on a treasure trove of antibiotics, which we need, but if we let
the plants go, we let the soil fungi go, we let the potential antibiotics go.”
(Sound of seeds dropping into a jar)
So Vitt is collecting prairie seeds from about 1,500 plants and shipping
them to the English countryside.
(Sound of birds)
Just south of London, the British government has built what it hopes will
be the largest seed bank in the world devoted to wild plants. The
building looks like a series of greenhouses made from concrete, stone,
glass and steel. In the basement, fire and bombproof vaults hold billions of
seeds from 24,000 species:
“That’s the exciting bit. We thought big.”
Michael Way is a scientist at the Millennium Seed Bank. He says it’s
needed now because a lot of wild plants are in danger of
disappearing because of global warming and the pace of human
development. Way believes a third of the world’s plant species could be
gone by 2050.
“You hope that the worst is not going to happen. Of course, from time to
time the worst does happen. If a plant population is destroyed, if a
decision is taken to build houses or factories or roads on a particular area
which was home to some quite special plants, seed banking is one tool
you can use to protect that genetic diversity that might be unique to that
Each day, seeds arrive from Africa, Australia, Europe, the Middle East
and the Americas. They sit in colorful plastic crates — waiting to be
cleaned, dried and frozen. Way says these seeds could survive for a
century or more.
“Seeds are tough – small but tough, and the whole point of seeds is to be
dormant and allow themselves to be transported around, so unless we do
something really stupid, they will remain viable.”
Back in the U.S., Pati Vitt says seed banks like the one near London
could mean the survival of humanity, since people can’t live without
“I think fundamentally we all understand that we are a part of nature, but
in our daily lives we get so cut off from it that we forget.”
She sees the Earth as a garden, and she wants people to act like
gardeners. Setting up seed banks is an important first step.
“We will have the tools that we need to bring things back if necessary.”
Milk production is big business in the upper Midwest. Now, the president of a biotech company in Wisconsin is milking a herd of cloned cows that he says could give the Great Lakes dairy industry a boost, but there are still questions about the health of cloned cows, and whether the milk they produce is safe for human consumption. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Gil Halsted has the story:
Milk production is big business in the upper Midwest. Now the president of a biotech company in Wisconsin is milking a herd of cloned cows that he says could give the Great Lakes dairy industry a boost. But there are still questions about the health of cloned cows and whether the milk they produce is safe for human consumption. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Gil Halsted reports:
(Sound of milk splashing into a sink)
Just outside the milking parlor at the Infigen Dairy a steady stream of milk is flowing from a pipe into a sink. It gurgles down the drain into another pipe that leads to a holding tank. Infigen president Michael Bishop says the milk is perfectly safe and nutritious but when the day’s milking is done he’ll get rid of it.
“Right now that milk is worth 15, 16 dollars a hundredweight and we’re dumpin’ it.”
The milk Bishop is dumping comes from 23 cloned cows. He produced them by removing the genetic material from an unfertilized cow egg and then inserting the DNA from the ear of a cow he wanted to reproduce. The result is a herd of cows that looks uncannily identical. There are no regulations requiring Bishop to dump the milk from his herd. But the FDA has asked all owners of cloned livestock to keep food products from their animals off the market until the agency decides whether or not to regulate them. The FDA is waiting for a National Academy of Sciences report on animal cloning due out later this spring before it makes a decision.
FDA spokesperson Stephen Sundlof says even if the report includes no red flags on food products from clones, the agency may require tests on the milk from cloned cows before it goes on the market.
“That would be to look compositionally at milk from cloned animals and compare that to milk from non-cloned animals to see if there was any substantial differences. But other than that we would likely find that those products were in fact identical to normal milk produced by uncloned animals.”
Michael Bishop is confident the milk his cloned cows are producing is perfectly safe for human consumption. In fact he says he’s already run the kind of test Sundlof is talking about comparing the milk of his cloned cows with the milk from cows at a neighboring dairy.
“Nothing new in the cloned cows… but there were variants in the bulk tank of a neighbor dairy, so it really turns out that the food product is more predictable. It’s gonna be the same in a cloned animal.”
But critics of cloning food say there are still lots of unanswered questions. Infigen isn’t the only company cloning dairy cows and several consumer groups are lobbying the FDA to put some strong regulations in place before milk from any of the diaries using the procedure is allowed on supermarket shelves. Joseph Mendelsen is with the Washington-based Center for Food Safety. He says there are a number of potential health problems for cloned cows. For instance they may be more susceptible to mastitis, and may require more use of antibiotics.
“Are there possibly subtle genetic differences that may affect the nutritional quality of the milk? I don’t think those issues have been looked at and they’re certainly not gonna be looked at with the scrutiny I think that consumers expect if we don’t have a mandatory regulatory system looking at cloned animals and the products derived from them.”
Infigen’s Michael Bishop agrees that regulations to insure the quality of the milk may be necessary, and he’s in favor of labeling the milk from cloned cows so consumers can make an informed choice.
“Americans are used to having choices and I believe they should have this choice. Let’s let science prove one way or the other if there’s a difference and then let’s let the marketplace decide if that product is going to be acceptable.”
Critics of cloning all say labeling should be required for food from cloned animals. But they’re even more concerned about the affect clones will have on genetic diversity. John Peck is the executive director of the Wisconsin-based Family Farm Defenders. He says an increase in the number of cows with identical genes will reduce the range of genetic diversity. And that means, he says, that herds of cloned cattle will be even more likely to face problems from disease and viruses.
“If you’re basically engineering in this uniformity, you’re also engineering susceptibility to catastrophic events, which we’ve seen that with other crops that are genetically engineered or hybrids that are vulnerable to one form of blight or rust or something that comes in from afar. The big question then is, who’s gonna pay for that? You know are the consumers gonna foot the bill when a factory farm of two thousand dairy cows all gets wiped out by one virus?”
But Michael Bishop says his cloned cows will not be any more at risk for disease than the original healthy cows they were cloned from. He predicts that once cloning catches on, farmers running large commercial dairies will begin adding clones to their herds to increase their efficiency.
“Because they’ll actually be able to create a more uniform consistent product from cow to cow to cow, and be able to predict how much hay, how much feed, and exactly what the outcome’s gonna be. Is it gonna be thirty thousand, thirty one thousand, thirty two thousand pounds of milk from the inputs they put in.”
how quickly large dairies turn to cloning for economic advantage though depends a lot on whether the FDA decides to impose restrictions on the milk the cloned cows produce.
For Great Lakes Radio Consortium, I’m Gil Halsted.