Debate on artificial insemination set to intensify in Australia
THE global debate surrounding artificial insemination is set to intensify as a trio of top Australian authorities prepare to defend an unprecedented court case launched by Sydney Turf Club chairman Bruce McHugh.
McHugh, a former major league bookmaker who now has significant breeding interests, is challenging a ban on AI imposed by the Australian Stud Book, Victoria Racing Club and the Australian Racing Board.
Bruce McHugh's court action could have potentially enormous consequences for the industryPICTURE: EDWARD WHITAKER
If successful, his federal court action could have potentially enormous consequences for the industry worldwide.
In launching his case, McHugh is arguing that a ban on AI amounts to a restraint of trade and a breach of Australia's Trade Practices Act.
The case will open in Sydney next month and McHugh has told the Australian media that he has high hopes of a ruling in his favour. "I wouldn't be doing this unless I was confident I can get the result I require," he said. "I will go down that path (court action) until someone can explain to me in simple terms why it is not good for the industry."
The legal action has been launched because McHugh wants to establish a PureBred stud book restricted to horses conceived by AI, which, should he win the case, would be allowed to race in Australia against thoroughbred horses bred in the traditional manner.
He is proposing that such a stud book would be managed by the Australian Standardbred Stud Book, which has direct experience of AI through its regulation of the harness racing industry.
A successful outcome for McHugh would make Australia the only one of 69 members of International Federation of Horseracing Authorities to allow AI- conceived horses to race against other thoroughbreds. As worldwide rules stand, Australian AI-breds would be automatically banned from competing abroad.
In his first public comment on the case, John Messara, the hugely influential owner of Arrowfield Stud, described the McHugh proposals as "lunacy" and argued they would lead to an "increased concentration of industry power and reduction of competition".
News of the McHugh case has inevitably been greeted enthusiastically by proponents of AI in the UK.
Fertility expert Twink Allen, perhaps the most vocal advocate, said: "AI needs to be discussed. It's just been taken off the agenda. There is no reason as to why the major bodies can't have an open, in-depth discussion about it.
"Bruce (McHugh) is confident he's going to win the case. He's proposing to establish a Stud Book solely for AI-bred horses, andit will be the choice of the mare owner whether to go down that route."
Kirsten Rausing: "leading figures have expressed their opposition"PICTURE: Mark Cranham
Britain's TBA chairman Kirsten Rausing outlined her objections to AI to the Racing Post last September. "In all international racing jurisdictions, a racehorse is not considered a thoroughbred if it is inseminated by artificial methods - and the British TBA does not take a unilateral stance on the issue," she said.
"Leading industry figures across the world, particularly in Australia, the US and India, which is now a major thoroughbred producer, have overwhelmingly expressed their opposition to AI."
However, Bob McCreery, who was TBA chairman when AI was briefly licensed in Kentucky during the late 70s by the local governor following an outbreak of contagious equine metritis, is a firm advocate of AI.
"It was apparent even eight years ago that there were some younger countries in racing who wanted AI to increase their breeding stock," he said yesterday. "China has very few stallions so they might buy ten or 12 straws (the facility to breed via AI) from a good one abroad. Those countries will then come into racing in a much better way.
Unlike most of AI's critics, Allen and McCreery believe its introduction would not necessarily mean that larger numbers of mares would be booked to a concentration of stallions. In the case of the Standardbred industry, book size numbers were capped at 140 after the progeny ofsome of the more desirable stallions flooded the market.
Allen is also adamant that the introduction of AI would not stop shuttling.
"About a third of frozen semen will freeze well, another third will freeze moderately and another third badly - that's a genetic thing and can't be helped," he says. "So shuttling will not be stopped.
"With cool semen, you are still going to lose five to ten per cent of fertility. But then again, as things stand now, if your mare is fifth in the day to be covered, there is a strong possibility that she won't get in foal anyway.
"You would also be covering maidens without risk and damage, and the older mares would get in foal more easier and without the risk of bacterial infection," continues Allen. "That would cost the owners less money."
Adds McCreery: "As well aiding disease control, I believe that AI would help widen the genetic pool - who wouldn't have wanted access to a horse like Sunday Silence?