The subject of cloning is a complicated and emotional subject for American Quarter Horse Association (AQHA) members. The plaintiffs who have filed an antitrust suit against AQHA insist cloning is just another breeding tool. However, a great majority of AQHA members do not perceive cloning to be a natural extension of existing breeding practices.
Although the process of collecting an egg and a sperm and combining them has been accepted by members for quite some time, the thought of creating a new horse by harvesting a cell from a horse's skin or other body part and replicating the horse through cloning remains a concept that most members reject.
By way of background, combining an egg and a sperm through artificial insemination has been allowed since the 1960's. The use of cooled/transported semen was allowed in 1997. Beginning in 2001, frozen semen could be used, and, beginning in 2003, frozen semen could be used after the passing of a stallion. The use of embryo transfers (process of transferring a fertilized egg to a surrogate mother) began in 1980, and was allowed for multiple embryos in 2002. All of these breeding techniques involve a mother and father through the combination of an egg and a sperm.
Since the issue of cloning moved to the forefront in the last several years, AQHA, through its stud book and registration committee (SBRC), its board of directors and its members, has put considerable effort into better understanding the issues surrounding cloning, including both its perceived benefits and the potential downsides, as well as determining the views of our members on the topic.
As set forth below, AQHA members have not adopted a rule which would allow for the registration of clones. It is AQHA's position that 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.
Under Rule REG106.1 of the AQHA Official Handbook (previously Rule 227(a)), American Quarter Horses produced by any cloning process are not eligible for registration. Although Rule 227(a) was first instituted in 2004, clones have never been eligible for registration with AQHA since AQHA registration rules have always required that only horses resulting from the breeding of a sire and dam are eligible for registration.
Since 2008, AQHA representatives and members have been studying the science and practicality of cloning and its potential impact on the breed. The SBRC and a cloning task force examined numerous issues involved with cloning and, in doing so, consulted with a wide variety of experts in the field of cloning.
At AQHA's 2008 convention, the SBRC was, for the first time, presented with a proposed change to Rule 227(a) that would allow a live foal produced via "somatic cell nuclear transfer" (a particular type of cloning) to be registered if its DNA matches that of a registered American Quarter Horse.
At that time, the SBRC recommended that any decision regarding the proposed change be postponed pending further study to be undertaken at the direction of the SBRC. The AQHA members attending the convention membership business meeting agreed with the SBRC's recommendation, and the recommendation was adopted by AQHA's board of directors.
At the 2009 convention, AQHA sponsored a cloning forum that was attended by more than 400 AQHA members. This forum was also webcast live on AQHA.com. The forum included formal presentations from several experts, one of which is now serving as an expert for the plaintiffs in the antitrust suit against AQHA. Following these presentations, AQHA members were given the opportunity to offer their own comments and ask questions of the expert panelists.
After the forum took place at the 2009 convention, the SBRC again recommended that the subject of cloning be studied further by establishing a cloning task force with the directive to continue to seek information and input from informed sources regarding the science and implications of cloning. Once again, the members at the convention voted in favor of the SBRC's recommendation, and such recommendation was adopted by AQHA's board of directors.
The information gathered by the task force during the year was then presented to the SBRC at the 2010 convention. Such task force information included the results of an AQHA member survey conducted by AQHA during the year. This survey, which went out to 3,000 random members, had a great response rate of more than 30 percent, of which 86.02 percent of the respondents were against cloning (The survey had an error margin of plus or minus 2.99 percent). Following the receipt of the task force findings and the member survey, the SBRC recommended that the 2008 rule change proposal be denied. By their vote, the members attending the annual convention agreed with the SBRC's recommendation, and such recommendation was adopted by AQHA's board of directors.
At the 2011 convention, the SBRC again addressed the topic of cloning when it considered a proposed rule change that would allow for the registration of a cloned horse for breeding purposes only. The SBRC recommended that the proposed rule change be denied. Such recommendation was accepted by the members attending the convention, and the recommendation was adopted by AQHA's board of directors.
Prior to the 2012 convention, another rule change proposal concerning cloning was submitted. This proposal would have amended Rule 227(a) to allow for the registration of the offspring of a cloned horse. After hearing from members at the SBRC meeting, the committee chose not to recommend passage of the proposal. The SBRC's recommendation was accepted by the members attending the convention, and the AQHA board of directors adopted the recommendation not to change the rule.
It was shortly after the 2012 convention that a group of plaintiffs (Jason Abraham, Abraham and Veneklasen Joint Venture, and Abraham Equine, Inc.) filed their antitrust lawsuit against AQHA seeking money damages and requesting that the court force AQHA to rescind Rule 227(a) and allow for the registration of clones and their offspring.
Prior to the 2013 convention, one of the plaintiffs in the lawsuit, Jason Abraham, submitted another proposed change to Rule 227(a). After hearing from members and engaging in discussion, the SBRC unanimously recommended that the proposal be denied. Upon presentation to the members at the convention, the members were unanimous in agreement with the recommendation of the SBRC. Finally, upon presentation to the board of directors, the board unanimously agreed with the SBRC's recommendation and denied the rule change proposal.
On July 30, 2013, the Federal Jury ruled against the American Quarter Horse Association in the cloning lawsuit. Read the news release. Two months later, AQHA filed its Notice of Appeal, and in December, the U.S. District Court in Amarillo granted in part AQHA's Motion for Stay of Equitable Relief Pending Appeal, resulting in AQHA not being required to register clones or their offspring.
A number of breed organizations rallied in favor of AQHA's effort to have the final judgement reversed and filed an Amici Curiae Brief asking the Fifth Circuit to render a verdict in favor of AQHA.
In February, the Plaintiffs filed their response brief, and AQHA filed its Reply Brief in March.
On January 14, the United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit rules in favor of AQHA, reversing the District Court's judgement and rendering judgement for AQHA on the grounds that the Plaintiffs' claims against AQHA fail both because the Plaintiffs' evidence did not prove a conspiracy to restrain trade and because "AQHA is not a competitor in the allegedly relevant market for elite Quarter Horses."
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