Ironic situation

  • 14/09/1997

Zebu, the indigenous breed of cattle, have lower body temperature, which is suitable to a hot climate. This metabolic adaptation allows them to better utilise low quality roughage, making them useful in other countries with a similar climate. Central American countries, Australia and southern states in the US have crossed Indian breeds with local stock to evolve crossbreeds which have higher productivity. Improved Zebu breeds like Gir, Kankrej and Sahiwal have also been raised in Brazil, West Indies, Australia and Kenya.

The Ongole cattle, originally from Andhra Pradesh, have found their way to Australia, Brazil, Fiji, Indochina, Mauritius, Mexico, USA and the West Indies. Developed as superior draught animals and for beef, Australia and Brazil now sell the embryos of this breed worldwide. Even India buys embryos from Brazil.

The Sahiwal, a highly productive cattle breed native to India and Pakistan, is used by 17 countries for improvement of local cattle stocks. Its semen is being exported by Australia to New Zealand, where, after artificial insemination of Jersey and Friesian cows, crossbred heifers are exported to Southeast Asian countries. But in their home country, crossing with exotic breeds has been unsatisfactory. "If we had satisfactory programmes for upgrading the Sahiwal, we could avoid crossbreeding," says P N Bhat of the Indian Council of Agricultural Research, New Delhi.

Vechur cows, indigenous to Kerala, have a low food requirement, a high resistance to disease and are well-adapted to a hot climate. They produce around 2.5 litres of high fat content milk per day. Whereas conservation of this breed was only recently taken up in India, genes from this breed have already been patented by the Roselin Institute of Edinburgh, UK, according to Vandana Shiva of the Third World Network, an NGO. Similarly, according to well-known geneticist Helen Turner, the high incidence of multiple births in 'Booroola' Merino sheep of Australia can be attributed to the 'booroola gene'. Research has identified its origin in the Garole sheep, native to Bengal. However, the gene has been patented in Australia, where it was probably introduced in Merino stocks from the Garole sheep that it imported in the late 18th century.

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