DNA Testing Prompting Calls for Calf Recalls and Catching Fake Wagyu Beef
“Hot and hairy” dairy heifers may not sound like much of a complaint but to agribusiness experts the genetic defect is serious business. The defect causes dangerous heifer overheating, poor milking as the animal ages, and an over-hairy beast. A bull named Matrix owned by New Zealand-based Livestock Improvement (LIC) is responsible for passing the defective gene to 1500 calves on some 900 farms.
LIC, a farmer-owned cooperative that sells bull semen and operates a dairy genetics database, has advised farmers to “get rid of” the heifers carrying the mutation and has offered a free DNA examination to definitely identify affected calves. LIC has also offered a semen credit to farmers with affected or unaffected calves from the bull Matrix. While LIC stands by its earlier decision that “compensation is not appropriate,” farmers are weighing their legal options in light of LIC’s “DNA proven” sales claim.
“DNA proven” points to an animal’s breeding merits based on its own DNA or genomics whereas the more traditional “daughter proven” method assesses an animal’s breeding merits based on three years of progeny.
Agribusiness experts, such as Waikato University professor Jacqueline Rowarth, worry about “the potential damage to New Zealand’s reputation in offshore markets” and recommend that LIC recall calves “Toyota style” and “offset farmers’ costs.” Thus far, LIC has expressed interest in furthering the discussion with Rowarth but not in initiating a recall or cost offset program.
Meanwhile Wagyu (aka as Kobe) cattle farmers are battling widespread brand counterfeiting by introducing a strong genetic testing and certification initiative. Several top breeders say that more than 90% of beef sold as Wagyu is actually from hybrid cattle or other breeds. They claim that some restaurants and butchers around the globe are purposefully swapping cheaper meats while collecting higher Wagyu prices.
It is the breeders’ hope that the new accreditation system will protect both farmers and consumers worldwide from unscrupulous practices by middlemen. To that end, the Australian Wagyu Association is developing a new genome test that will provide a precise measurement of wagyu content from the animal’s DNA. Graham Truscott, CEO of the association, confirmed in an interview with Stock and Land that the new accreditation system will be implemented within the next 12 months.
Canada also has a Wagyu Association, according to the group’s website, as does the U.S. Interestingly, the Canadian Wagyu Association’s December 2000 Director’s Report by Joanne Vang notes commercial cattlemen in Canada are reluctant to admit to the Wagyu cross in their herds. However there has been no word on whether the Canadian association will also implement the new accreditation system to prove the authenticity of the beef or the percentage of Wagyu content in the meat. Meanwhile, an April 2012 report in thestar.com reveals that Canadian consumers are being fed the same low grade bull as their global counterparts.