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Impact of Biotechnology in Animal production

Biotechnology promises to bring important changes in plant as well as livestock production and healthcare. In both fields, it will affect all steps of the production chain, from agrochemical inputs and breeding to final food processing.

The use of biotechnology in animal production has advanced more quickly than its applications in plant production. Worldwide, more than one-half of all biotechnology research and development expenditures are in the field of human health. At the experimental stage, a large number of drugs, diagnostic probes, vaccines etc. are frequently applied in livestock production prior to becoming available for use by humans. Developments in the pharmaceutical industry, therefore, have had considerable ramifications for animal production since many innovations in this area are also applicable to animals.

Applications of biotechnology to animal production cover four fields:

Reproduction, selection and breeding;

Animal health;

Feeding and nutrition; and

Growth and production.

In the field of reproduction, new bio-techniques such as embryo transfers, in vitro fertilization, cloning and sex determination of embryos have been developed for different types of livestock; for example, cattle. This is of considerable interest for breeding programmes in developing countries since importing frozen embryos can be less costly than importing live animals.

Animal health, the second field, can be improved with new biotechnology methods of diagnosis, prevention and control of animal diseases. Diagnostic tests based on the use of antibodies and new vaccines against viral and bacterial diseases are also particularly relevant for developing countries and have a wide application for prevention of cattle epidemic and diseases.

Biotechnology research in the third field of animal nutrition concentrates on improvements in the enzymatic treatment of feed and decreasing the anti-nutritional factors in certain plants which are used as feed. In developing countries, such techniques might eventually increase the potential range of crops used to feed larger herds of livestock.

Experiments with hormones to improve milk and meat production are the subject of much debate in industrialized countries because of their possible negative effects on animals and farm structures. In developing countries, however, specific needs for increases in productivity can be an overriding consideration which may lead to earlier large-scale adoption of this technology than in many industrialized countries. This field is another area of biotechnology application.

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