Friday, July 1, 2022

LIC off hook on hairy calves

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The farmer who laid a complaint with the Commerce Commission against LIC’s hairy calf genetics is philosophical about the commission’s decision.  

The commission effectively yellow carded the genetics company for its use of the term “DNA proven” in its marketing literature, on grounds such a phrase had potential to be misleading.

However, it is not taking any further action against the company.

Geoff Butler, of Kapuni, had four defective calves from the genomically proven bull Matrix, which carried the hairy gene mutation.

Matrix’s disorder meant some of the offspring were exceptionally heavy-coated and intolerant of heat.

“This is not the outcome I was looking for, but maybe some lessons have been learned and procedures put in place and it will be handled better next time,” Butler said.

The commission’s letter to LIC noted while the commission was not taking any further action, it did not prevent other parties taking private action against the company.

Legal opinion on the commission’s ruling confirmed the view taken when the saga broke in September last year that a breach of the Fair Trading Act had occurred.

Affected parties have three years to lodge a complaint.

Butler confirmed he would not take legal action, on grounds of expense.

Karapiro farmer Roger Blunt still has eight of the hairy offspring on his property, having pulled them back from a heifer shipment intended for China last spring.

“They look terrible. They did not develop and you would not call them replacement heifers, put it that way. I just held on to them to see what they developed into,” he said.

The commission said in the letter its main concern was the use of “DNA proven” in publication material.

The use of these words gave rise to a possible breach of the Fair Trading Act because they had the potential to create a false and misleading impression the results were proven, when in fact they were a prediction.

“They look terrible. They did not develop and you would not call them replacement heifers, put it that way. I just held on to them to see what they developed into.”

Roger Blunt

Farmer

The commission believed the use of “proven” in relation to DNA was accurate for only traditional sire-proven daughters. The fact the genomically proven bulls’ offspring performance was based on genomic prediction, not physically proven performance, meant the term was inappropriate.

Since the hairy-calf issue arose LIC has changed its marketing description to “genomically selected”.

Lincoln University associate professor in animal breeding Dr Jon Hickford said the use of “proven” was dangerous in science. He said it appeared marketing had won out over science in the use of the “DNA proven” phrase.

“The wording ‘genomic selection’ is accurate and useful in describing the tools used producing Matrix. He was, after all, still an outstanding bull as regards breeding worth – just had a few faults that the ‘proving’ hadn't found.”

Despite the setback from the DNA proven campaign Hickford was confident DNA-based selection technology would continue to improve and add significant value to the dairy industry.

“But it will be a long time before things can be ‘proven’,” he said.

The commission said its decision not to take the issue further was influenced by the efforts LIC had made since the issue arose.

These included changing the marketing phrase and also the payment of $4.7 million to clients who had used Matrix genetics, covering the cost of semen and insemination.

The company has also re-worked its genomic bull team to include a combination of traditional sire proven bulls and genomically proven bulls.

LIC spokeswoman Clare Bayly said the company accepted the term “DNA proven” was not the best description and had moved some time ahead of the commission’s review to change the term to “genomically selected”.

“And they have acknowledged those changes were done.”

The company had continued to pour significant capital into the genomic programme, she said. This had included DNA sequencing 500 bulls and dams, an effort due for recognition soon in an eminent international scientific journal.

Related story: LIC challenged on timing

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