Avoiding artificial insemination’s slippery slope
I've heard most of the arguments – pro and con – on the issue of artificial insemination, and as with many contentious matters in our industry there are legitimate cases to be presented on both sides.
Having said that, however, at least in my estimation, it is welcome news that Australian Federal Court Justice Alan Robertson has dismissed the claim by Bruce McHugh against breeding authorities to overturn the ban on AI.
Thoroughbreds are about the last breed of equines to prohibit this practice. It has become commonplace in most other breeds. The American Quarter Horse Association learned several years ago that, once you start down the path toward artificial insemination, it can be a very slippery slope.
AI rules in Quarter Horses, which permit shipment of frozen semen, also allow embryo transfers. Ten years ago, a group of Quarter horse breeders challenged an AQHA rule limiting a mare to conceive just one foal per year, saying the restriction decreased the value of their bloodstock. A judge ruled in their favor, and the AQHA quickly changed the rules to allow mares to produce more than one foal per year via embryo transfer. The association also paid a financial settlement to the breeders.
Advocates of AI contend there is less stress and risk of injury to the stallion and mare and that the practice also reduces the possibility of an infectious disease outbreak. They also have argued that rules prohibiting AI create a financial hardship because breeders often must ship their mares long distances to stallion farms and pay boarding fees.
Opponents of AI worry a shrinking gene pool would eventually occur since there would be no limit on the number of mares a single stallion could impregnate each year using frozen semen. W.R. “Twink” Allen, a controversial equine fertility professor and AI advocate, said that argument doesn't hold water, pointing out how some Stud Books are already flooded with dominant bloodlines, including Danehill in Australia or Sunday Silence in Japan.
When I heard Allen give a presentation on the subject before a group of South African breeders several years ago, he also said the United States Trotting Association has developed an answer to that problem for Standardbred breeding, which permits AI: limits on the book size of stallions.
But the USTA putting a cap on the book size for Standardbred stallions sounds a little bit like the AQHA limiting the number of foals a Quarter horse mare can produce via embryo transfer. Would the USTA rule, which has yet to be challenged, hold up in court?
Had the Australian judge ruled against the AI ban, one of two things could have occurred. Either Australia's Thoroughbreds would no longer be able to compete outside of that country because of a longstanding international agreement among various breeding authorities that bans AI, or those authorities would have to back down from their position. The latter scenario seems more likely, which is why this ruling had huge ramifications well beyond Australia.
Small breeders, especially those whose mares are located far away from major breeding centers, may have benefited from a ruling that would overturn the AI ban. But, if the ruling eventually led to a change in the American Stud Book and AI became commonplace here, it would also forever change the economics of the Thoroughbred industry, especially in places like Central Kentucky and Ocala, Fla. – and not for the better.
There would be no need to ship mares to be covered by stallions and an overall decentralization of the business would result. Boarding operations would go out of business and be turned into chicken farms or subdivisions.
The heart and soul of the Thoroughbred breeding industry would disappear.