You've heard of Save the Whales, but what about Save the Red Wattle Pig? Or Save the Tennessee Fainting Goat? OK, they're not actual slogans, but they could be. That's because the underlying issue remains the same: These animals are at risk of extinction, meaning that if they die out, it's not just sad (more species of plants and animals are going extinct today than at any time since the dinosaur days), but we also lose a part of our heritage. These animals historically served as American foods. Thus, they're "heritage foods."
Heritage foods come from endangered or rare breeds of purebred livestock and crops. American Livestock Breeds Conservancy is working to keep dozens of such animals from going extinct, including Florida Cracker Cattle, Mulefoot Pigs, Gulf Coast Sheep, Delaware Chickens, Pilgrim Geese. (See a full list here.)
A surprising tactic is used to try to save heritage livestock.
"If we want to save them, we must eat them!" states the web site of Heritage Foods USA, which, as the sales arm of nonprofit Slow Food USA, sells heritage foods from small farms to wholesalers and the public. It says its Heritage Turkey Project helped double the nation's population of heritage turkeys and upgraded the Bourbon Red Turkey from "rare" to "watch" status on conservation lists.
As odd as the eat-'em-to-save-'em strategy seems, it hints at the heart of the problem: Long ago, lots of breeds of domesticated animals served as food, but then modern agriculture came along and favored the use of only a few highly specialized breeds that provide maximum production of milk or meat. Examples: A very few breeds provide one-third of the world's pig supply and much of the nation's milk supply. So, traditional breeds die out - taking with them genes and survival traits that industrial animals don't have, including resistance to disease and the ability to adapt to specific climates.
The eat'em strategy is one of several policies that aim to try to save the world's heritage breeds. The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations is alarmed by the world's loss of domestic cattle, pigs, goats, horses and poultry. Over the past five years, breeds have gone extinct at the rate of one per month. In Brazil, a dozen of its 32 native pig breeds remain, and all are under threat. By one estimate, nearly one-third of US cattle breeds face extinction.
More cool info:
* To read how Florida Cracker Cattle differ from Texas Longhorns or to get info on other livestock on the endangered list, click here then click on links for desired animals.
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