(Reuters) - A U.S. appeals court on Wednesday ruled that the country’s leading quarter horse association can reject cloned horses from its prestigious registry.
The three-judge panel for the U.S. 5th Circuit Court of Appeals overturned a lower Texas court ruling in favor of two breeders who contended the American Quarter Horse Association operated a monopoly by excluding cloned animals.
The judges wrote that the plaintiffs, rancher Jason Abraham and veterinarian Gregg Veneklasen, failed to prove that the organization’s stud registry committee colluded to bar horses created through somatic cell nuclear transfer, or cloning.
“Reasonable jurors, in sum, could not draw any inference of conspiracy from the evidence presented,” the judges said in the 20-page opinion.
They added that the association does not breed, race, sell or show the animals, and does not compete in the elite horse market.
A jury ruled in favor of Abraham and Veneklasen in July 2013, and the court ordered that the association accept breed registrations of cloned horses.
“We are extremely disappointed and will seek to have the trial court’s judgment reinstated,” plaintiff attorney Nancy Stone said in an email.
“Appellate courts are to give great deference to the verdict of a properly instructed jury and we believe the jury’s verdict and the trial court’s judgment were proper.”
No other horse breeding registry allows cloned animals.
“We always knew our case was sound,” AQHA Executive Vice President Don Treadway said in a statement. “We are relieved to finally have a judgment in our favor.”
The quarter horse association, which has a membership of 280,000 globally, had previously allowed the registration of horses born using reproductive techniques such as artificial insemination.
Cloning is the creation of an animal that is an exact genetic copy of another, with the same DNA. A cloned sheep named Dolly produced in Scotland drew international attention when she was shown to the public in 1997.
The American quarter horse is heavy-muscled, marked by small ears, a big jaw and lightning speed up to a quarter of a mile, the association says on its website.
Reporting by Curtis Skinner in San Francisco