The recent announcement by Canadian Dairy Network, Holstein Canada, Pfizer Animal Health, The Semex Alliance and its owner partners to support delivery of genetic services to the Canadian dairy industry got me thinking about what the future holds for the dairy breeding industry. This alliance has me drawing parallels to what has occurred in the corn industry and the effects that had on consumers as well as producers.
While the announcement just covers the identification of genetic markers that has already revolutionized the dairy breeding industry, the part that catches my attention is a company the size of Pfizer entering into the marketplace. When Monsanto entered into the corn breeding industry, it not only became a competitor to the other established players but it also used its vast resources to take the process to a completely new level. While Monsanto had been a market leader for many years in the sale of herbicides this research gave them the ability to apply their expertise on the genetic level.
With Pfizer entering the genomics game, does that mean that we will start to see them offer their own genetics available for sale that have been bred or rather modified to be disease resistant or even worse modified to produce more milk, or have better feet and legs. If you thought the manipulation of photos to make cattle look better was an issue (read more here Has Photo Enhancement Gone Too Far), what happens when they can do it on the genomic level? While the practical side of me sees how having cattle that are more disease resistant, that is polled and milk 20,000 kgs, for 10+ lacations would be beneficial, the breeder in me has concerns. Part of what makes animal breeding great is the fact that it’s an art form. What happens when that art form is handed over to science?
One thing that you will know for sure is that the sale of animal genetics will become a commoditized market place dominated by the big players such as Pfizer, Monsanto, and other multinational conglomerates. While there is no question that these conglomerates will dominate over the average breeder, they will also dominate over the current major A.I. companies. It has me asking myself “Is this move by Semex a step in building a partnership because they see the future coming?” If so good on them for at least being proactive and at least trying to sustain their long-term viability.
If it’s more by chance, as I think it is, I think the whole industry needs to look at what the future holds and maybe have a wakeup call to where this is all heading. Animal breeding is becoming big business, as evidenced by companies like Select Sires that have expanded their breeding programs to include owning females (read more about this at Should A.I. Companies Own Females?). As the ability to deliver predictable results at a lower cost of development continues, larger and larger companies will enter the marketplace and begin to dominate the current players.
In the past, dairy cattle breeding has benefited from great moves, such as happened when T.B. Macauley, an insurance executive, started Montvic, when J. Rockafeller Prentice, from oil and banking fame, started A.B.S. and, likewise, when Peter Heffering, using outside industry investors, collected great cows and started Hanover Hill Holsteins.
There is also the consumer side to this equation. We all witnessed consumer reaction to the use of rBST. Over time while there has remained a small portion of the marketplace that actively buys non-rBST milk. However, for the most part the issue has died off. In the same way, the GMO corn issue has died off and much of the general public is not even aware that it exists. Thus, there may be uproar as this “new technology” enters the marketplace, however, in time, the result will be the same for this commoditized product. As long as the cost to consumer is lower, they will buy it.
The Bullvine Bottom Line
On the one hand, Thanks to genomics, the future of the animal breeding industry has never look brighter. On the other hand, it also may be facing its greatest risk. Genomics has taken animal breeding from an art form to a science. Furthermore, science will continue to define and refine the process. With companies like Pfizer entering the marketplace this process will be accelerated at a completely new pace. Those players that have the most resources available will also dominate it. This means that the average breeder, as well as the current A.I. companies, need to realistically consider what the future holds as this happens.
So my question to you is, are you ready for GMC (Genetically Modified Cattle)?