Lawsuit Filed Over Genetic Tests

Cattlemen Cut Some of Their Best, Now They're Suing for Losses

Victoria G Myers
By  Victoria G. Myers , Progressive Farmer Senior Editor
A lawsuit has been filed against University of Illinois professor, Jonathan Beever, over a test he developed to identify the genetic defect Contractural Arachnodactyly (CA). (Photo by Humble Law)

BIRMINGHAM, Ala. (DTN) -- Gelbvieh cattle breeders Jerry and Karen Wilson have filed a lawsuit against Jonathan Beever, a University of Illinois professor and founder of Agrigenomics, a livestock genetic testing company. The registered breeders say they culled more than 70 animals based on genetic tests that found the animals positive for the genetic defect Contractural Arachnodactyly (CA).

One of the animals the Wilsons culled was the most heavily used sire in the Gelbvieh breed at the time, Post Rock Granite 200P2.

CA is commonly known in the industry as "fawn calf syndrome." It is a genetic condition, caused by a mutation affecting Angus and Angus-influenced cattle. Carriers can be indistinguishable from those free from the condition without genetic testing.

Beever is well known in the industry for developing DNA tests based on the CA mutation back in 2010. How many cattle were evaluated using tests he helped develop is unknown. The Wilsons represent just one operation that relied on the CA test to cull herds, with a goal of eliminating the genetic mutation from bloodlines. The farm, based at Ava, Illinois, is reported to have relied on the private testing company, Agrigenomics Inc. to do the work.

After CA test results were in, the Wilsons culled those animals the test showed to be carriers of the defect in October 2013. This included the sire that led the breed at the time. Just three months later Beever is reported to have told the American Gelbvieh Association and breeders the test could not accurately detect CA in Gelbvieh cattle. Damage to the Wilsons is estimated at $150,000, but that could change.

Humble Law is handling the case. It's work close to the heart of attorney Dustin Kittle. His family farm at Geraldine, Alabama, raises black and red Gelbvieh cattle, and is a long-time leader in the breed. Kittle said he hopes the suit can help the Wilsons and others like them rebuild reputations damaged through inaccurate assertions that CA was a problem in their herds' bloodlines.

"We're a registered Gelbvieh farm," said Kittle. "This is a personal case for us. We got licensed in Illinois so we could handle this case. It affected our farm and the entire Gelbvieh breed. People like the Wilsons paid to have their animals tested, then they culled them. Then they were told the findings were false. That's a hard pill to swallow."

Kittle said the Wilsons, having the No. 1 bull in the breed at the time, faced lost revenue on the bull but also on the semen.

"This impacted them more than a lot of other breeders," Kittle notes. "They sold a lot of semen for three years, and they have not sold any since. They destroyed a lot of it based on these results."

Kittle added he believes there's a measure of damages to be considered with regards to the stigma associated with a bull that is a CA carrier, and said this event has hurt the Wilsons' reputation as breeders.

Beever continues as a professor with the Animal Sciences Laboratory at Urbana, Illinois. The place's website identifies Beever as "one of the foremost leaders in identifying genetic defects and congenital abnormalities in cattle and sheep."

DTN/The Progressive Farmer reached out to Beever via phone and email, to provide an opportunity for comment on the lawsuit and/or accuracy of the CA test. At time of this story's posting, he had not responded.

Victoria G. Myers can be reached at vicki.myers@dtn.com

(ES\SK)

Victoria Myers