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Genotype data from 20 microsatellites typed in 253 animals is used here to assess the genetic structure of seven European pedigree cattle breeds. Estimation of genetic subdivision using classical drift-based measures shows that the average proportion of genetic variation among breeds varies between 10 and 11% of the total, depending on the estimator used. We demonstrate that a simple allele-sharing genetic distance parameter can be used to construct a dendrogram of relationships among animals. This phylogenetic tree displays a remarkable degree of breed clustering and reflects an extensive underlying kinship structure, particularly for the Swiss Simmental breed and four breeds originating from the British Isles. Condensation of allele frequencies and individual genotypic compositions using principal component analysis is also used to investigate genetic structure among breeds and individual animals. In addition, the underlying genetic demarcation of European cattle breeds is emphasized in simulations of breed assignment using allele frequency distributions from samples of microsatellite loci. Correct breed designation can be inferred with accuracies approaching 100% using data from a panel of 10 microsatellite loci.