American Quarter Horse interests square off next week in a court case over whether cloned horses and their offspring should be allowed to be registered.
Jason Abraham and Gregg Veneklasen want the American Quarter Horse Association (AQHA) to repeal Rule REG106.1 to allow cloned quarter horses and their offspring to be registered, thus enabling them to compete.
The trial, set to start on July 16, is expected to take two or three weeks.
Abraham and Veneklasen, both of Texas, filed the action through related companies in April last year in the United States District Court for the Northern District of Texas in Amarillo.
More than 20 depositions have been taken in the case, ranging from the plaintiffs themselves to AQHA officials and key individuals involved in registration and stud book management.
The AQHA argues that when people with shared interests, goals and values come together to form a voluntary private association to serve a common purpose, the members have a right to determine the rules for their association.
Setting rules around registering American Quarter Horses and defining the American Quarter Horse breed is central to what AQHA does, it argues.
AQHA registration rules have always required that only horses resulting from the breeding of a mother and a father – the joining of an egg and a sperm – are eligible for registration.
Cloning, it argues, is not breeding.
It noted that several other breed registries, including the Jockey Club and the American Kennel Club, also refuse to register clones.
In 2004, the AQHA membership passed a rule stipulating that clones were not eligible for registration.
A survey of the AQHA membership showed that 86 percent of members did not believe clones should be registered with the association.
It argues that the lawsuit is a bid by two members to force the association to register clones against the wishes of the membership.
“Since its inception in 1940, American Quarter Horse breeders have been in the honorable business of working to make each generation of horses better than the generation before,” the association said in a position paper on the case.
“There is a fundamental, shared belief among AQHA members that the art and science of breeding is the way to improve the breed.
“Cloning doesn’t improve the breed; it just makes Xerox copies of the same horses. With clones we’re not moving forward, we’re staying the same.”
It also noted that, given the cost of cloning, only very popular and elite horses will be cloned.
“Breeders already use popular and elite horses over and over again in their breeding programs.
“Cloning,” it says, “has the potential to intensify the narrowing of the gene pool resulting in the worsening of known and unknown genetic diseases or the creation of new genetic diseases”.
The association continued: “Plaintiffs allege that there is a shortage of elite horses and cloning would alleviate this problem. Statistics show that there is no shortage of elite horses for buyers and breeders to choose from.”
Abraham and Veneklasen, in their complaint to the court, argue that the AQHA’s position on cloning amounts to a breach of anti-trust laws in Texas.
The AQHA ban on the registration of cloned horses and their offspring created significant competitive disadvantages to members who owned cloned horses and their offspring, as well as to competition and to consumers, they argued.
They noted that the association had in recent decades changed its rules and regulations to reflect advancements in breeding techologies.
“The harm to the members that own clones and their offspring is the mirror image of the benefits to other members.
“AQHA knows that by refusing to register the plaintiffs’ quarter horses, that it forecloses competition by the plaintiffs. AQHA is knowingly using its monopoly power to preclude and bar competitive entry into the market.”
The rules of the past, they noted, required live cover of a mare by a stallion, but the rules were ultimately changed to allow foals produced through artificial insemination, “and subsequently to allow the registration of horses produced by even more advanced technology”.
“In every instance, these breeding technologies have been accepted in the industry and approved by the AQHA.”
The plaintiffs argue that Somatic Cell Nuclear Transfer technology – cloning – is both safe and legal, and should be allowed by the AQHA.
“Somatic Cell Nuclear Transfer … is nothing more than an assisted reproductive technique, similar to in vitro fertilization and artificial insemination used widely in animal reproduction.
“… there is no genetic manipulation of the animal; no genes are added, taken away or manipulated. A clone is a genetic twin of the original animal. The offspring of clones are NOT clones. These animals are bred and born in traditional ways.”