LUBBOCK, Texas - Two Texas quarter horse breeders want a federal jury to rule that their cloned animals should be registered by the American Quarter Horse Association, something the organization has banned since 2004.
Panhandle rancher Jason Abraham and Amarillo veterinarian Gregg Veneklasen sued the 280,000-member organization last year in an attempt to overturn the prohibition of cloned horses from the registry.
AQHA spokesman Tom Persechino said the antitrust lawsuit, to be heard in Amarillo beginning this week, will be closely monitored by horse breeders and registries worldwide because no registry currently allows clones. Registering a horse adds value to the animal and it could then participate in breed competitions, Persechino said, and any offspring are automatically registered, he said.
"It is a big deal," he said. "I think other associations will be watching this just because of the precedent it would set."
Abraham and Veneklasen - both members of the AQHA - own an undisclosed number of cloned quarter horses or offspring, and claim the organization's rule violates federal antitrust laws that prohibit any entity from monopolizing commerce without a legitimate reason.
AQHA has denied the suit's claims, saying its rules promote competition. The organization argues private organizations with voluntary memberships should be allowed to operate without court interference. Persechino also said Sunday the membership has indicated it doesn't want the organization to register clones.
One of the men's attorneys, Nancy J. Stone, declined to comment Sunday.
Opening statements are set for Tuesday before U.S. District Judge Mary Lou Robinson, and the jury trial is expected to last two weeks.
In a May 24 ruling against the AQHA's motion for summary judgment, Robinson wrote that Abraham and Veneklasen have produced evidence that the association made its decisions to defend the rule through one of its 14 standing committees - called the Stud Book Registration Committee - and did not review or question its unanimous decisions.
The Amarillo Globe-News first reported the judge's ruling.
"Thus there is evidence that the AQHA is the conspiracy, because it is in fact controlled by competitors with interests to ban clones. There is also evidence that the AQHA, acting or acquiescing through its board, agreed to maintain" the rule, court records show the judge ruled.
She rejected Abraham and Veneklasen's argument in the motion that the association was attempting to monopolize the market by excluding cloned horses.
In 2002, the AQHA reached an out-of-court settlement that allowed horse breeders to register embryo-transfer foals. The settlement came after several horse breeders sued the group, alleging that the association would not register numerous superiorly bred, embryo-transfer horses - a rule that devalued their horses.
By transferring embryos from one mare to a surrogate, a breeder can produce multiple foals per year, but only one foal was eligible for AQHA registration each year before the settlement.