Australian court case is set to intensify debate on artificial insemination; Nancy Sexton analyses the latest twist to one of the most contentious subjects facing the worldwide breeding industry.
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.
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 Pure Bred 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 Britain.
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, and it will be the choice of the mare owner whether to go down that route."
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 1970s 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.
"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?"
Kirsten Rausing: opposes introduction of AI