A jury in Texas has ruled in favor of two Texans who went to court to challenge the American Quarter Horse Association (AQHA) ban on the registration of clones.
The ruling is an important step in allowing clones and their offspring to compete in sanctioned quarter horses races in the US, but the AQHA has indicated it is looking at its appeal options.
Jason Abraham and Gregg Veneklasen took the AQHA to court seeking the repeal of Rule REG106.1 to allow cloned quarter horses and their offspring to be registered, thus enabling them to compete. The pair argued the rule violated federal and state anti-trust laws.
Abraham and Veneklasen filed the action through related companies in April last year in the United States District Court for the Northern District of Texas in Amarillo.
A 10-person jury today ruled in favor of Abraham and Veneklasen, but awarded no damages. The plaintiffs had sought $US2 million to $US5 million in damages
“We are deeply disappointed by the outcome of this trial,” AQHA executive vice-president Don Treadway Jr said.
“It continues to be our position that our rule prohibiting the registration of clones and their offspring is both reasonable and lawful.”
Treadway noted that the rule at the center of the case had been on the AQHA’s books since 2004, although clones and their offspring have never been eligible for registration with AQHA.
“When individuals with shared interests, goals and values come together to form a voluntary association to serve a common purpose, the members have a right to determine the rules for their association,” he said.
“The wisdom of our membership – which is largely not in favor of the registration of clones and their offspring – has not been upheld by this verdict.”
AQHA president Johne Dobbs said: “We will meet with our legal counsel and executive committee regarding our appeal options in continuing to fight for our members’ rights and announce our decision in that regard in the near future.”
The jury’s decision does not automatically provide a route to registration, but counsel for the plaintiffs told media they hoped the verdict would provide a gateway to registration, saying the plaintiffs would expect to prevail should a permanent injunction be required.
Thye case, which began on July 17, saw the parties square off over what the ban on clones actually meant.
The AQHA argued that members had a right to determine the rules for their association.
Setting rules around registering American Quarter Horses and defining the American Quarter Horse breed was central to what AQHA does, it argued.
AQHA registration rules had always required that only horses resulting from the breeding of a mother and a father – the joining of an egg and a sperm – were eligible for registration.
Cloning, it argued, was not breeding.
It noted that several other breed registries, including the Jockey Club and the American Kennel Club, also refused 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 argued that the lawsuit was 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 said, “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, argued that the AQHA’s position on cloning amounted 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 argued that Somatic Cell Nuclear Transfer technology – cloning – was 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.”