Cloned Quarter Horse Breeder Claims Registry Has Monopoly and Refuses to Register Clones

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AMARILLO, TEXAS (CN) -- APRIL 25, 2012 -- The American Quarter Horse Association is monopolizing and raising the price of horses by refusing to register cloned horses and their offspring, a horse breeder claims in a federal antitrust complaint.

Jason Abraham and his companies Abraham & Veneklasen Joint Venture and Abraham Equine Inc. claim the American Quarter Horse Association violates the Sherman Antitrust Act and the Texas Business and Commerce Code.

Abraham claims that cloning helps reduce genetic defects in quarter horses, hundreds of thousands of whom may be descended from an original sire.

The Amarillo-based American Quarter Horse Association is the world's largest horse registry and membership organization, with more than 5 million horses registered since 1940. The association claims its mission is to "record and preserve the pedigrees of the American Quarter Horse while maintaining the integrity of the breed," according to the complaint.

Abraham, who owns cloned quarter horses, says the AQHA refuses to change a rule that bans their registration.

The association recently has accepted horses bred through nontraditional technologies such as artificial insemination and in vitro fertilization, but continues to reject cloned horses and their offspring, Abraham says.

Abraham claims cloning is "nothing more than an assisted reproductive technique," which can reduce genetic diseases in horses and enhance the breed by diversifying the gene pool.

"Somatic cell nuclear transfer [cloning] is the most recent evolution of selective breeding, providing owners with a powerful tool for breeding their best stock," the complaint states. "Cloning is the only assisted reproductive technique that can minimize or eliminate genetic disease - a problem that has plagued quarter horses. At least nine equine diseases have been linked to genetic mutations. Nuclear transfer will significantly reduce the chance of all genetic diseases including two of the most widespread major genetic diseases, hyperkalemic periodic paralysis ('HYPP'), a muscle disorder that can cause tremors or paralysis in quarter horses, and hereditary equine regional dermal asthenia ('HERDA'), a debilitating condition marked by hyperextensive skin that causes a horse to literally shed its skin. HYPP has been traced to Impressive, the quarter horse sire of most winning halter horses. By May of 2008 there had been over 350,000 Impressive descendants registered with AQHA. HERDA is linked to Poco Bueno, one of the most famous and most influential sires in AQHA history. Hundreds of thousands of quarter horses trace their lineage back to this legendary sire; his pedigree can be found in many of the world's top cutting and cow horses.

"These two diseases, HYPP and HERDA, are examples of 'popular sire effect' (or popular stud/sire syndrome) which occurs when an animal with desirable attributes is bred repeatedly. This can cause unknown undesirable genetic traits in the stud to spread rapidly within the gene pool. It can also reduce genetic diversity by the exclusion of other males. While the Impressive and Poco Bueno pedigrees have produced many exceptional horses and champions, the concentrated gene pool with the detrimental recessives they carry has been devastating to owners of their descendants. Too much breeding to one horse will give the gene pool an extraordinary dose of his genes, including whatever detrimental recessives he may carry, to be uncovered in later generations, causing future breed-related genetic diseases through what is known as 'Founder Effect.' AQHA recognizes the harm done by Founder Effect and attempts to limit and ameliorate that harm. Somatic cell nuclear transfer is the best tool available to deal with popular sire syndrome and eliminate Founder Effect. Somatic cell nuclear transfer technology will play a significant role in reducing genetic diseases and diversifying and broadening the pool of 'clean horses' available to consumers.

"The vast majority of cloned horses are world champions in their particular sports. These champions were cloned not to have them repeat in their performance, but to be used as breeding animals and the clones will improve the health and quality of the breed. Through cloning, a genetically identical horse now can stand as a breeding animal and provide offspring that will further enhance the breed. Cloning also provides the option to produce offspring form genetically clean superior horses that cannot reproduce: a) mares or stallions that died young or before recognition of their valuable genes or that can no longer reproduce, and b) horses that were gelded and proved themselves to be superior performers would be given the opportunity to pass on their genetics. Breeding the best possible stock improves the over-all health and disease resistance of animal populations. Cloning can also be used to help breed horses that are immune to disease." (Parentheses in complaint).

Despite the advantages of cloning horses, Abraham says, the AQHA refuses to remove its ban on cloned horse registration.

He says that at an AQHA meeting in March an influential breeder and former president of the association objected to removing the ban by talking about "the immorality of cloning as a reproductive tool," and threatening that "AQHA will allow cloning over my dead body."

Abraham claims the ban excludes cloned-horse owners from AQHA-sponsored events, programs and races, some of which offer multimillion-dollar awards.

He claims the association is unfairly restricting competition, driving up prices and diminishing the value of cloned horses by controlling the supply of high-quality registered quarter horses.

And he says the ban impedes the proliferation of "genetically clean horses."

Abraham wants the association enjoined from enforcing the registration ban. He is represented by Ronald Nickum.