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Archive for Council on Dairy Cattle Breeding

Often I find as an industry we are guilty of living in a bubble.  While sometimes that has served us well, other times there are situations where it for sure has hurt the dairy breeding industry as a whole.  However, like all bubbles, this will have to burst in order for the industry to advance, otherwise the dairy cattle breeding industry will become irrelevant.

There is no question that the dairy breeding industry is going through times of great change.  Genomics has had a massive effect on not only how we prove bulls, but also on the sources of revenue and the focus of many breeding programs.  There has been great discussion about what the changes in April will have on the industry (Read more: How Genomics is Killing the Dairy Cattle Industry).  There are some far greater issues that many breeders need to think about.

Some Big Hitters Are Coming To the Plate

One such issue is the entry of Pfizer/Zoetis into the animal genetics game.  There is no question that companies like Pfizer have the resources and the experience to come into industries and dominate.  When you compare the size and revenue of the Animal Health market to that of the dairy cattle breeding industry, you really have to wonder why Pfizer would even bother.  There is no question that DNA testing is a very cool science, but companies like Pfizer don’t do things because they think that it is cool.  They do it because they know they can make money.

When you step back and look at this from a 50,000-foot view, I start to think, is this Pfizer wanting to come and take over dairy cattle breeding?  On the other hand, is it that Pfizer sees how they can protect their much larger revenue source, animal health?  Walk with me on this one.  If it is possible to understand genomics to such an extent that we can breed a better cow, does that not include a cow that is more resistant to disease, parasites, and bacteria? Now we’re talking about core revenue sources for Pfizer animal health, now called Zeotis.

That is why when I first saw the announcement from Pfizer in May 2012 about how Canadian Dairy Network, Holstein Canada, Pfizer Animal Health, The Semex Alliance and its owners are going to partner to support delivery of genetic services to the Canadian dairy industry it really got me thinking about is this a good thing or should we be concerned?  While the public relations side of this looked all great with the message that the alliance gives dairy producers access to new genetic testing services, I could not help but think what does this mean if Pfizer/Zoetis now has direct access to all the genomic information not only in Canada but also indirectly for the world?

Also of interest about this move was that instead of being signed by all the members of the industry it was done very selectively.  Instead of being signed by say Canadian Livestock Genetics Association it was done exclusively with the Semex Alliance.  Is there a partnership between Semex and Pfizer that we are not aware of?  Have we as an industry, or our representatives, on our behalf made decisions that we may all regret?  While I am sure from first glance this agreement looked pretty basic, I can’t help but wonder if there are much greater ramifications that have not really been thought through.

Information is Power, But who controls the information?

With these questions about genetic evaluations and genomics, you can’t help but think about the heated discussion around the Council on Dairy Cattle Breeding (CDCB) and who controls genetic evaluations in the US (Read more: Council On Dairy Cattle Breeding: Land of the Free and Home of the Brave?).  The Cooperative Agreement with the USDA Agricultural Research Service (ARS) pertaining to the transfer of the USDA-­‐ARS dairy genetic evaluation service to the CDCB has certainly had many asking who does have control?

While the Bullvine has request several times to do an interview with CDCB officers , Ole Meland, (Chair), Jay Mattison (Vice Chair), Becky Payne (Secretary) and  Gordon Doak (Recording Secretary), we have still not yet been granted the opportunity.

No Demand Means No Market

Of course there is a much bigger issue I think every breeder needs to think about.  While in Canada most breeders are pretty immune to having to think about market demand, you only have to look at the US and Australia to see what happens when market demand goes south.  If consumers are not drinking milk, it does not take long for the industry to dry up.

Worldwide milk consumption in relation to population growth is falling.  While yes total consumption is increasing, we are not keeping pace with other beverages.

With greater international supply and less demand, it doesn’t take long to drive price and revenue down (Read more: Why the Future of the North American Dairy Industry Depends on Supply and Demand). There is no question that breeders and the industry as a whole, needs to pay greater attention to consumer demand as it will have the greatest impact on our future.

The Bullvine Bottom Line

There is no question the world is changing.  It always is and always will.  The question becomes are you ahead of the change or behind it?  If we continue to operate in a bubble or stick our heads in the sand, we will not be the ones driving our own future, but instead will be handed the scraps from the future decided by others.  That is why it is important to know who is controlling the dairy breeding industry?



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For some time now the Council on Dairy Cattle Breeding (CDCB) has been working to establish a “Cooperative Agreement” with the USDA Agricultural Research Service (ARS) pertaining to the transfer of the USDA-­‐ARS dairy genetic evaluation service to the CDCB.  This has culminated in the recent release of a draft Cooperative Agreement for public comment.  The problem is that the draft lacks some of the core values that makes America great, specifically the ability for everyone to operate on a level playing field (access to information) and to be led by brave leadership driving toward a better future.

With these changes come many questions.  Some key issues follow.

Will everyone have access to the information?

Reading the agreement may require having a law degree to fully understand it.  This may be by intention, but it really doesn’t make for light reading.  Some of the language in the proposed agreement is very confusing. It talks about how the CDCB will have ownership and control of the information.  One of the reasons that the USA has been able to become the mega world power that it is was because it was founded on the belief that everyone is created equal and has equal opportunity to achieve success.  Looking at how the use of genomic information was handled in the past does not bode well for how everyone will get free access to the information.  Many smaller organizations are concerned that this will lead to a monopoly for a few A.I. studs.

The proposed wording is in stark contrast to allowing free access to the information for all those involved.  This actually causes a double edged sword.  On one side, the powers that be are limiting the small guy from competing at the same level.  However, there is also the interest about keeping much larger players, such as say Pfizer from entering.  In Canada, Pfizer is already offering genomic testing and what’s to stop them from using their many resources to use that information in new ways (read Are You Ready for Genetically Modified Cattle).

How do we maintain our integrity with breeders worldwide?

Similar to the views expressed by Greg Anderson of Seagull Bay Dairy, many breeders are concerned about the perceived integrity that comes from going away from a government organization (USDA) to a private entity.  Vice President of Holstein USA Glen Brown and Director Bill Wright also express these concerns,  Both men are also  dairy breeders and call for the need to develop  strong business plan, in the following video


While I do understand this concern, there are many examples worldwide, such as the Canadian Dairy Network (CDN), which has been able to maintain integrity and do it   without the political hurdles that come with government involvement.

One of the lessons learned from the CDN model is that you need equal representation from all parties involved, not just those who put up the most money.  CDN is majority funded by Industry and specifically A.I., but its board has equal representation from breed associations, breeders, and industry.  This is necessary in order to maintain the integrity of the organization and also to provide effective direction for the future.  One thing is for sure, it will take bold leadership through these times.  This makes me remember when Murray Hunt (Dad for disclosure sake) backed by the Canadian Genetic Evaluation Board, was facing a similar challenge in Canada. At the time he made some bold moves, hiring of Paola Rossi, and Gerald Jansen, Canadians working in Italy to do Canadian genetic evaluations, long before there was the full business plan, but rather had the agreement in principle.  Yes, this was putting the cart before the horse, but it also lead to the formation of the Canadian Dairy Network (CDN).

Who pays the bills?

As Holstein USA Director and dairy breeder Leroy Eggink, points out in the video above, it has been a great scenario for US breeders having taxpayers foot the bill.  But, that gravy train is over.  In Canada when that ship sailed, it left industry footing the bill.  Since A.I. represents the most direct profitable gain from genetic evaluations, that means they are left holding the bag. Ultimately, this cost is passed on to the breeders.  And while the response comes that we pay for all the systems that track and record this information, there is still the cost to convert that raw data into actionable information (bull proofs).

The one area the CDCB needs to remember is that all costs should be expensed equally and should not play favorites with the larger A.I. centers, as happened with Genomic information.  In an interview with Ron Flatness, Flatness International, he repeatedly expressed the concerns around price for the smaller competitors and protecting against un-needed additional fees.  (Following comments are that of the writer and not Ron) Instead of higher membership fees that will limit the involvement of smaller organizations or independent breeders, all costs need to be handled equally.  One standard price per sire sampled vs. a much larger membership fees, would be fair to everyone.

The Bullvine Bottom Line

Be careful what you ask for.  While many breeders want 100% free access to information, it isn’t always a good thing.  While there are many questions that still need to be answered, regarding a business plan, ownership of information and how to be as transparent as possible, I ask the question, “Is this a move to keep, not smaller players, but much larger players out of the marketplace?”

Here are some more great resources:

Dairy producers will have 29 days to comment on the Cooperative Agreement (May 7 to June 4).

If you have questions please contact any of the CDCB officers.

Contact information for USDA representatives:



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