A step-by-step selection process
A nationally-coordinated group-led organization setup

Définition des objectifs de sélection
Définition des objectifs de sélection

 Founding legislation in 1966

The quality and constantly-improving results of French-led genetic selection programmes are grounded in France’s unparalleled experience. First and foremost, the experience of the grassroots livestock keepers who, first on their own and then through breed associations, ushered in animal selection based on phenotypic breed traits.

Since the mid-20th century, this empirical approach took a huge leap forward with the advent of quantitative genetics. In order to get the most out of these new scientifically-driven opportunities, a set of policy guidelines was defined for the French genetic improvement system under the 1966 Livestock Legislation.

This legislation laid down foundations for modern selection programmes to be led under a nationally-coordinated group-led organization setup: a unique and unified animal ID system, on-farm performance data recording, progeny testing on candidate breed-standard AI stock stud animals, the creation of a technical institute missioned with supporting these programmes via methodology coordination and technical assistance, among other initiatives.

 A nationally-coordinated group-led organization brings efficient leverage

From the 1970s on, French selection programmes have undergone unparalleled progression as selection populations increased in size, new scientific knowledge has been applied, and technological innovations have been integrated.

However, the entire system still revolves around the same founding principle: a nationally-coordinated, group-led organization. By pooling a share of the costs, technical services and selection tools between regions, species and breeds, the scheme enables any scheme-member breeder, whatever breed they are working with and wherever their flock is raised, to benefit from:

  • progress made in science, technology and methodology;
  • cross-industry services delivering the same levels of quality and objectivity;
  • reliable, standardized protocols.

For nearly 50 years now, this nationally-coordinated, group-led organization setup has been able to federate a massive number of breeders, preserve a majorly important national biodiversity, and generate substantial genetic progress and improvement in every livestock breed, all converging to drive livestock industry-wide development.

 Efficiency and objectivity as the watchwords

Each phase-step in the selection programmes (identifying and certifying parentage, on-farm performance data recording, individual on-station stud testing, etc.) is carried out by specialist breeder organizations that are legally independent of the breed associations.

This pioneering organizational framework facilitates the acquisition and development of the specific competencies needed for each function and makes it possible to locally deliver fully independent community services to those operators directly involved in the process of gaining market value from stud animals.

 Cross-sector cohesiveness and reliability

Within each farm species, the methods and procedures followed at each step in the selection programme are exactly the same for all breeds that are raised for the same purpose (meat or dairy). At national level, the mission tasked to the Institut de l’Elevage [French national livestock research institute] is to define and revise these methods and procedures, and where necessary, to deliver training and approvals to the technicians applying them.

This means that all dairy cattle breeds ultimately follow the same set of procedures for pedigree management, on-farm performance data recording, progeny testing, genetic evaluation, and so on. However, each breed obviously gets to keep hold of its own dynamics in terms of selection policy and objectives.

For each species, data recording, quality control, and all data processing and publishing are channelled through the same unique National Genetics Information System. Along the same lines, all of this data is compiled into the same unique national database, which is State-run through the public French National Institute for Agronomics Research [INRA].

 Broad participation and stringent requirements

In order to address the broadest possible genetic variability, the number of animals in each breed and the number of breeding centres enrolled in selection programmes need to be as high as feasibly possible. With over 3.4 million females on 60,000 farms, the French cattle breed selection populations (animals with full herdbook/pedigree records and on-farm performance data recordings) have grown to levels that rank them among the biggest in the world.

However, in order to keep selection pressure strong, very few of the studs in these baseline selection populations actually get qualified for natural servicing or authorized as breed-standard AI stock. The only animals that win through from each generation are those that have proven to be genetically far superior to their contemporaries.

Consequently, only fifty-odd bulls from all the beef cattle included every year will ultimately get shortlisted as breed-standard AI stock from the offspring of 900,000 on-farm performance-tested cows and the 2,000 on-station performance-tested young candidate stud bulls.

 Nation-wide group-led coordination by France Génétique Elevage (FGE)

In order to lend this vast scheme the requisite core cohesiveness, the 1966 legislation created the CNAG [a National genetic improvement commission] as a centralized coordination and leadership body chaired by the Ministry for Agriculture and composed of experts from public research bodies (including the INRA) and breeder organizations (including the Institut de l’Elevage).

This permanent policy orientation and guidance commission operating under Ministry for Agriculture authority was subsequently mandated to handle approvals for technical organizations, selection programmes, technical protocols, candidate breed-standard AI stock bulls, forward planning and analysis of policy needs, drafting proposals on regulatory amendments, and more.

The exemplary level of efficiency and rigorousness achieved by the breeder associations has since prompted the government to transfer this coordination and leadership mission over to France Génétique Elevage (via the 2006 national agricultural policy reform) as cross-industry trade organization for the genetic improvement of ruminants.

FGE federates input from every technical-focused organization involved in each link of the selection programmes chain (identification, certifying pedigree and parentage, performance testing and data recording, compiling herdbooks and breed registries, selecting and studding prime breed stock animals, managing and administrating genetic information systems, genetic evaluations) and from the representatives from all the allied breeder associations (FNB, FNPL, FNEC, FNO).

 Quality management that is officially recognized at international level

In order to further consolidate the continuous improvement approach that has taken French genetics to its current leadership position in the international arena, France Génétique Elevage has engaged its entire system framework and the allied organizations in an overarching Quality Management System (QMS).

This QMS, which was designed to ISO 9001:2008 standards, is now officially recognized at international level.

In 2010, France Génétique Elevage was awarded the ICAR (International Committee for Animal Recording) Certificate of Quality for all of its activities falling within the scope of genetic improvement for dairy and beef cattle.