Are Cloned Horses Ready for Primetime?

September 3, 2013

Tuesday, September 3, 2013, by Daniel Choo
With every scientific breakthrough, there comes the potential for misappropriate use—nuclear fission and the atomic bomb; Google Earth and the Mumbai terrorist attacks; the Internet and the increased incidences of cyberbullying and cyberstalking.  To discourage such misuse, laws relating to such technological innovations need to be tightly regulated, taking into consideration not only the legal implications but also the long-term moral effects of such laws on society as a whole.  Unfortunately, with its recent decision in Abraham v. Am. Quarter Horse Ass’n, the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Texas did no such thing and instead, helped pave way for future abuse of genetic engineering and cloning technology.

“[C]loned embryos are often deformed or grossly over-sized, and so should not be created for what . . . is [essentially] a leisure activity.”

In Abraham, two Texas horse breeders sued American Quarter Horse Association (“AQHA”), one of the most preeminent Quarter Horse breed registries in the country.  Participation in many of the more lucrative competitions around the world requires AQHA registration.  Without such registration, a horse essentially has minimal economic value.  Accordingly, the Texas breeders alleged that by refusing to include clones of registered horses in its registry, AQHA deterred competition and violated federal anti-monopoly laws.  AQHA responded that, if anything, its decision to exclude had anti-monopolistic effects; such cloned horses were not prevented from joining competing registries.  And, more importantly, because its “members voluntarily join and come together for their love, shared interest in and enjoyment of the American Quarter Horse,” AQHA had the right to create rules that support the views of its members.  U.S. District Court Judge Mary Lou Robinson, however, disagreed and held that AQHA must accept clones into its breed registry.
Regardless of whether AQHA’s decision indeed constituted a violation of anti-monopoly laws, the district court botched an opportune moment to help deter the misappropriate use of scientific innovations.  By requiring AQHA to accept cloned horses, the court, in essence, stamped its seal of approval on the use of cloning technology for non-medical or “recreational” purposes.  Proponents of the ruling argue that cloning is necessary to “give horses who are unable to reproduce naturally a chance to pass on their genes.”  In addition, cloned horses have long been approved in other equine sports competitions (e.g. showjumping, polo, and carriage horse racing) without any significant negative consequences.
Such explanations, however, fail to adequately justify the need for cloning technology in breeding horses for competition.  Breeders of past Kentucky Derby winners like War Admiral and Secretariat found much success without having to rely on genetic engineering.  But now that the technology is available, what is to prevent someone from creating multiple clones of these past Kentucky Derby winners for purely financial gain?  Of course, the making of a winner takes more than just good genes, but those with the financial resources to create such clones will certainly have some degree of advantage over the field.  Moreover, the process involved in cloning of animals is far from being completely safe.  Great majority of cloning attempts are unsuccessful and require extensive veterinarian intervention.  Even when health clones are produced, many develop unexpected health issues.  Moreover, “cloned embryos are often deformed or grossly over-sized, and so should not be created for what . . . is [essentially] a leisure activity.”
With such uncertainty still looming in the field of animal cloning, it makes little sense to allow individuals to breed horses through genetic engineering.  While breeding horses may currently seem benign, such continued misuse of technological innovations will only lead to disastrous consequences.