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:
- CDCB information from Holstein USA
- Letter to editor of Holstein World from Ben Dorshorst
- USDA-ARS-CDCB Cooperative Agreement Notice
- USDA-ARS-CDCB Cooperative Agreement
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:
- Steve Kappes, PhD Senior Advisor and Deputy Administrator
- George Wiggans, PhD Research Geneticist
- Joseph Spence, PhD Area Director