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).
According to the suit, the Wilsons were later told the CA test was not accurate. 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. The Wilsons, based at Ava, Illinois, said they relied on the CA test developed by Beever, and sold through a Nebraska-based genetics company, to cull the herd of carriers in October 2013.
Humble Law is now handling this case. It’s a 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 rebuild a reputation damaged through inaccurate assertions that CA was a problem in their herd’s bloodlines. Damage to the Wilsons is estimated at $150,000, but that could change.
“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.”
Beever, who spoke with DTN regarding the lawsuit, said in 2013 the American Gelbvieh Association, implemented guidelines for testing that included the CA mutation. He agrees the Wilsons had some animals with positive test results, one being that purebred Gelbvieh bull.
“I was asked to retest the animal (Wilson’s bull) to see if he was a carrier. I was sent a straw of semen on the bull, tested the bull and he came out a carrier. The question became why,” said Beever. “We did DNA sequencing on that bull and we learned the test we were using was recognizing a DNA sequence that matched the Angus sequence. There was no other explanation as to why that bull was a carrier other than that he was black, could have had Angus genetics in his pedigree and the DNA sequence matched the DNA sequence of Angus cattle.”
Beever adds he offered to test the Wilsons’ entire herd “at our cost,” because the bull had been used extensively in their bloodlines. He insists the Wilsons’ decision to sell the cattle when they did (2013 and 2014) was “an inappropriate management decision based on incomplete information. He didn’t wait till we understood what happened,” said Beever of Wilson’s decision.
“I believe he made a decision based on economic opportunity. At the time there was no justifiable reason to cull animals of high genetic merit that might have had a mutation, when we know it can be managed.”
Following this, Beever spoke before the American Gelbvieh Association in January 2014, and told them the test should be considered “unreliable” for Gelbvieh breeders. He noted that for Angus and Angus-composite cattle the test is valid.
Kittle said the Wilsons, having the No. 1 bull in the breed at the time, lost revenue on the bull, but also on the semen.
“This impacted them more than a lot of other breeders,” Kittle noted. “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, a professor with the Animal Sciences Laboratory at Urbana, Illinois, said the suggestion is “I knew all along the test wasn’t working properly in Gelbvieh, but decided to market it anyway for economic gain, and that this was more important to me than solving a problem in the beef industry. This is a charade.”
The researcher added for now he has terminated research into solving the CA problem for the Gelbvieh Association.