As promised, here is the full update on the internal discussions that are occurring around our DNA program.
There are other updates in which we’re going to share with you all the things we’re doing to improve some of the other areas we’re dealing with, especially within the office and member services, but this update is going to only be about DNA since it’s such an important and complex discussion.
There‘s quite a bit of incorrect information circulating around the membership, and we’d like to clear that up. As we stated in the last update, no changes to the DNA rules have been finalized. The DNA requirements for bucks and donor does remain in effect. The post that was taken down, but has been widely circulated by some members, wasn’t removed because it exposed something the Board didn’t want you to know. It was taken down because it didn’t provide all the necessary information to keep it from being misinterpreted (as is evident from the uproar that has subsequently occurred). This update provides all that information.
We see your comments posted on social media and we hear your concerns. The Board is not hiding behind a veil of silence. We’re trying to change what has become a toxic culture of communication within the organization and the membership. That is extremely difficult to do given the past and where we find ourselves today. How we will do this has not been completely defined, but these updates demonstrate we are making an honest, good faith effort to bring foundational changes to the areas you as members have voiced concerns about for years. We will not engage in tit-for-tat discussions on social media. This has proven countless times to be destructive and only seems to fuel the fire for some members as things can be misinterpreted and taken out of context. Our goal is to develop and implement a professional and consistent communication plan that meets your needs. As members, you can choose to complain and create barriers to our success in accomplishing this goal, and you can hold us responsible for the problems of the past. Or, you can choose to support the efforts we’re making and encourage us and other members to participate in positive and productive ways. The choice is yours…we certainly hope you choose the supportive path.
With regard to our transparency and the frequency with which we provide information to you, please be patient and have reasonable expectations. We know there’s been a serious lack of information in the past, and we absolutely intend to change that moving forward, but it can’t happen overnight. As you can see from the length of this update, our goal is to establish regular and thorough updates for the membership. Each of the areas we are addressing is a challenge alone, all of them together at times seems insurmountable. Due to contracts and confidentiality requirements, there are some things the Board simply can’t share with the membership legally. That is why our bylaws provide for closed door sessions in Board Meetings. By their very nature, some discussions require discretion and confidentiality. Every communication we have with you moving forward needs to be correct, complete, and coordinated. If it’s not, we’ll all find ourselves right back where we are today…having to respond to backchannel hearsay through social media that undermines the organization and disenfranchises the membership. We understand why it’s happening, and that it’s our responsibility to provide you with the information you need to feel informed. Please help us do that by having patience and giving us a chance to prove we have honest intentions.
The DNA program isn’t being reviewed in order to provide some benefit to specific Board members or big breeders. In fact, it’s partially happening because this board recognizes that controls need to be put in place specifically to keep that from happening now and in the future.
Some members believe if we make the DNA requirements and how they’re applied to registrations more restrictive, that’s by default better for the breed, the organization, and the membership. This is not necessarily correct. It may maximize the accuracy of the database and progeny matches against it, but it has far reaching implications on the costs and other areas that would cause a significant portion of members to leave the organization. This would reduce the size of the organization and impact its ability to benefit the breed. Is that short term pain outweighed by a long term benefit? We’re not sure, but it’s part of the equation that must be considered.
There are perceptions within the membership that the program is working as it should, it’s catching all the cheaters, it’s providing integrity to the process, and it’s achieving the goals it was originally set out to do. None of these statements are completely accurate. It’s especially not correct with regard to catching potential cheaters. There are many ways for the current process to be manipulated. There will always be cheaters and they will find a way even in the most well thought out and implemented processes. We have to weigh the benefit of what the DNA Program is doing against the issues it’s creating and stop doing things as an organization just because “it’s how we’ve always done it”.
We’re not saying the program has been a complete waste of time and money. There are many good things about it. It is a good and noble cause. But there are also some significant issues we have to address and resolve before they get any bigger. Yes, there are many reasons the registration process has been abysmally slow over the last year. They are all being addressed. This is one of the big ones. That’s why it’s being addressed, it cannot be ignored as part of the problem.
What we hope to do in this update is give you full disclosure on the discussions that are going on at the Board level and how and why they are happening. Here are the primary reasons the current program is under review. As you can see, some of these are in direct conflict with one another:
1 – DNA is very important to the registry and the members. It is the Board’s responsibility to ensure the policies implemented maximize the benefit of the program to the breed, the organization, and the membership.
2 – After extensive and thorough discussions with UC Davis, it is this Board’s opinion that the highest and best use of DNA can only be accomplished when parent verification on both the dam and sire is performed.
3 – It is clear from the membership that requiring DNA and parent verification on all registered animals would be considered financially burdensome on many breeders and members.
4 – The current policies and procedures leave room for conflicts of interest and dealings of self-interest by both Board members and the Executive Director with regard to how DNA results are entered and registrations are approved.
5 – The content of our current DNA database, in conjunction with how DNA is submitted to UC Davis, and how we’ve implemented our current rules are creating significant member registration issues that are both growing rapidly, and increasing in complexity, to the point of being unresolvable in some instances, in particular over the last year.
6 –The ABGA has not done a good job positioning DNA as a member benefit, processing DNA in a timely manner, or educating the membership on the progress and problems of the program.
Here are the primary discussions that are occurring around these topics.
How do we fix the current registration issues we’re experiencing? – For those of you who’s DNA testing is going relatively smoothly, you may not be aware that we have a significant number of issues that regularly delay and confound registrations. There are many reasons for this, most of them revolve around how the DNA program has been implemented and how “fixes” have been applied over time to address them. PLEASE NOTE: Most members think we simply have one set of DNA rules. We do not. We have rules that apply to what DNA must exist on certain animals and what it must contain (the DNA Database), and then we have DNA rules for how the results affect whether or not the animal can be registered (registration). For this part of the discussion, we have to separate how we build an accurate and reliable database, and how we apply the requirement of DNA testing to registrations. At this point in the update, we are separating the Database Building discussion from the Registration Requirement discussion. The following information applies ONLY to how best to Build our Database.
UC Davis recommends strongly that for the very best DNA results to build a legitimate database with the highest accuracy possible, we should be doing three things from the very beginning:
1 – We should be requiring that both Parents be verified. (of course that’s not possible exactly when you start, so there are a few years where you have to require at least just DNA markers on all breeding stock so they can be in the database when you start doing Parent Verification). The accuracy is much lower and the likelihood of false positives is much higher if we send just the buck with no dam DNA to combine with it.
2 – When we submit progeny DNA for Parent Verification, we should submit the information (not additional DNA samples) of every buck on the property or in the semen tank along with all the dams that it could possibly belong to if it came from a herd lot. (If you’re reading this thinking that doesn’t make any sense and it isn’t necessary, please understand that dams will accept and wet nurse kids from another doe in a herd lot, sometimes right at birth and from the very first suckling. Even breeders who pay very close attention can make the honest mistake of believing a kid belongs to a dam when it doesn’t.) If you sent in just one buck’s information as the possible sire, there may be 50 to 100 bucks in the database whose DNA alleles would come back as a match to that progeny based on the number of markers against which we match. If it is a match, UC Davis has no reason to dig deeper or look at more markers to confirm it. It simply gets returned with a positive verification. This has a high possibility of a false positive. If you send in multiple sires and at least one dam or multiple dams, the accuracy of the match goes up dramatically. The dam accounts for half the alleles of the progeny. That leaves only half left to match against a potential sire. This dramatically reduces the potential sire matches. Then, if multiple sires match to that progeny, which is very common given the number of sibling sires we have in our industry, UC Davis has a red flag that causes them to dig deeper and look at more markers to determine which one is the correct sire. This produces the best and most accurate results for verifications.
3 – Do your Parent Verification matches against as many DNA Markers as you can within the cost structure that is affordable. The more Markers you match against, the more accurate and reliable your initial results are, and the more costly the process is.
As an organization, we’ve done none of these, and consequently, our database is weak and full of holes. We’re not saying it’s been a complete waste of time and money. There are many good things about it. But there are also some significant issues we have to resolve before they get any bigger. Very few of our animals have both Parent Verifications. Our standard process is to send in only one buck with Sire Verifications and only one buck and one doe with Parent Verifications. This is now starting to rear its ugly head as we do Parent Verifications on donor does and flush progeny that are not matching against bucks that likely had false positive Sire Verifications to begin with. To address these issues, we’ve implemented policies that permit registrations for animals for which there is no way to truly validate their DNA meets requirements (Dead buck and dead doe rules, DNA penalties). This creates loopholes that, whether they are or are not used, create a perception within the membership that Board Members and the Executive Director can use for self-dealing, which is an obvious conflict of interest. Additionally, we have UC Davis perform our initial matches on a relatively small number of DNA Markers in order to keep the costs to the membership low. It’s not an insufficient number, it’s an industry standard. But given we’re not doing the first two items in their list, this contributes to the possibility of false positives in the Sire Verifications for bucks.
This is not an attempt to bash or belittle anyone who was historically involved in designing or implementing the program. It’s simply an honest assessment of where we are today. When all our previous policies were implemented, no one could have known we would end up where we are, but we’re here none the less and it’s this Boards responsibility to address it. We can’t fix the problems that currently exist in the database, but we can implement changes moving forward that get the program back on track to accomplishing the original goals.
Here’s some information to help you understand where we are based on the recommendations from UC Davis above.
Up through 2014, only DNA Markers were collected and the submissions were voluntary. Since 2015, bucks with progeny have been required but ONLY sire verifications were required. The only does that have been required are donor does and their progeny, and that’s only been since 2018. The reality is that very few of the animals we have in our registry have been Parent Verified for both parents. The vast majority are bucks that only had one buck submitted for Sire Verification
To put this in perspective:
We have a total of 870,589 animals in the system (both registered/unregistered and active/inactive) with 90.5% of these being American Born.
We have a total of 21,929 animals (both Registered/Unregistered and Active/Inactive) with data in the DNA case id field.
That means that only 2.52% of our entire registry has been DNA tested since we started testing. With a primary concentration on bucks submitted with only one sire for verification.
So, how do we implement policies and procedures that get us to a DNA program with a high level of accuracy and integrity and:
1 – Keep it affordable
2 – Fill the DNA Database holes moving forward
3 – Benefit the breed, the organization, and the members
4 – Provide a truly good and valuable member experience and benefit
5 – Resolve the registration issues we’re experiencing
6 – Eliminate the loopholes that leave room for conflicts of interest and self-dealing
7 – Incentivize members to use it
We’re not sure yet. That’s why we’re discussing it.
We are confident in a few things. We’re confident there’s no single answer that will make everyone happy. Additionally, there’s no single option we’ve come up with yet that seems obvious since there are so many competing wants and demands across the expectations of all the members.
With that said, we do believe there is a right answer. Our goal is to find it, and implement it as best we can in a way that meets our obligation to steward this organization today and into the future with consistency.
Right now, here are the primary solutions we’re reviewing to accomplish the seven tasks above as they relate to Database Building.
1 – Keep it affordable – We are working with UC Davis to discuss how we can reduce our overall costs, or keep them in check while simultaneously increasing the number of DNA Markers they review for initial tests. We’re doing this by discussing volume discounts, modifying what we send, and modifying how we send it utilizing technological efficiencies. There have also been discussions around making DNA voluntary and creating a “Parent Verified” status that allows breeders to differentiate themselves and their animals. This status allows the cream to rise to the top and would give buyers a higher level of confidence in the animals they’re purchasing. Breeders with Parent Verified progeny could charge a higher price for their animals compared to animals that are not parent verified. For those breeders who do not want to, or cannot afford to, DNA test all their animals and get them parent verified, this would allow them to lower their costs and still run a profitable business.
2 – Fill the DNA Database holes moving forward – The only way to really solve this issue is to require Parent Verification for any DNA results we allow into the DNA Database (please remember, we’re not talking about requiring Parent Verifications for all registrations here, we’re just talking about the data allowed into the database)
3 – Benefit the breed, the organization, and the members – There is no single solution that will accomplish all three of these goals in both the short term and the long term. Because there are so many competing needs and expectations across the membership, no matter what is done, including doing nothing and keeping it the way it is, will anger some members. This will in turn cause them to leave the organization. This will then hurt everyone in the short term (which is already happening). So we have to set our vision and goals on the long term health and viability of the organization and its members.
4 – Provide a truly good and valuable member experience and benefit – We recognize how difficult it’s been submitting DNA requests through ABGA and the office in San Angelo up until now. We are reviewing staffing, documenting all the processes, reviewing technology, and implementing improvements to all of them. We are committed to driving the change necessary for ABGA to provide excellence in member services.
5 – Resolve the registration issues we’re experiencing – This one is difficult, but achievable. The best option we can see right now is to try to implement the recommendations from UC Davis, in particular doing Parent Verification on all Progeny DNA that’s submitted (again, we have to point out, we’re not talking about requiring Parent Verification for registrations here). Since we’re not starting from scratch, we have to find a way to do it utilizing the DNA Database we have with all its data, good and bad. Then we have to build their recommendations on top of it somehow. Do we implement their recommendations utilizing what we currently have in the database and go through the extremely painful and difficult process of cleaning up all the issues that arise, especially for all the does of which very few are currently in the system? Do we keep the data, draw a line in the sand, and start from scratch using their recommendations? Do we temporarily allow DNA results where one or both Parents are disqualified for a period of time until we have enough animals in the system with DNA Markers to start requiring Parent Verification (this by the way is what would be done if we were starting from scratch)? Do we make DNA submission voluntary but require it be Parent Verified to create the “Parent Verified” status? Which of these options, or some other, is the right solution? We’re not sure yet, that’s what we’re researching and discussing.
6 – Eliminate the loopholes that leave room for conflicts of interest and self-dealing – Again, the only way we can see to do this is to implement the recommendations of UC Davis and get the DNA Database to a point where we have enough correct data in it, then we can require no additional data gets entered until it is Parent Verified for both the sire and the dam. Until we get to that point, we will always have to have policies (loopholes) to address the missing data (holes) in our DNA database. Additionally, we have to have policies that solve the issues we deal with where not everyone can, or will play nicely. We regularly run into problems with DNA requests that come back with one or both of the parents disqualified. If the DNA for the sire or dam or both was originally submitted by the breeder directly to UC Davis instead of through ABGA, ONLY the breeder can help the member fix that problem at UC Davis. We regularly deal with DNA issues for members where the original breeder is either no longer in the business, dead, or uncooperative in working with the member to help solve the DNA discrepancy. In these situations, there is NOTHING ABGA can do to resolve these DNA issues. This will be addressed in the ACCESS not OWNERSHIP discussion next in item 7.
7 – Incentivize members to use it – We saved this one for last because it’s a big one! We feel a good goal is to get to the point where all DNA is submitted through AGBA and every member WANTS to submit their DNA through ABGA because of the benefits of doing so. There are many reasons some of our members currently want to submit their DNA samples directly to UC Davis and don’t want to submit their DNA through ABGA. Unfortunately, most of them are completely justified. However, some of them are simply misunderstandings. Here are the issues we see and how we are considering fixing them so we can turn the DNA Program into a solid benefit that members WANT to use:
A – Poor Member Experience – Without a doubt, we have to do a much better job managing the member experience submitting DNA through ABGA. This is first on the list because it’s the low lying fruit and most obvious concern. It’s also the most within our control to resolve. And we assure you, we’re going to resolve it. Between the last update and the information listed above in this update, a number of solutions have been listed that will be implemented with the intent of creating excellence in our member services. This issue is a big part of the reason many members submit their DNA directly through UC Davis instead of submitting it through ABGA. It’s hard to argue with the logic and reasoning behind that. However, although submitting it directly does give you control, it also firmly places the responsibility in your court. It dramatically hinders ABGA’s ability to help other members, and this hurts both ABGA and other members, which we’ll discuss next.
B – The OWNERSHIP issue – This isn’t really an OWNERSHIP issue. This is an ACCESS issue. If you speak with UC Davis they will tell you this is an ACCESS not OWNERSHIP issue. For many years, some members have refused to submit their DNA samples through ABGA because we have wording in our rules and policies that address OWNERSHIP. We’re currently reviewing everything surrounding this because it’s a huge barrier to ABGA being able to provide a real, valuable service to both breeders and the members purchasing their animals. More significantly, it makes it impossible for ABGA to help members or solve problems for them when they pop up, which they do frequently. Here’s why:
Due to regulatory and confidentiality requirements, UC Davis can’t legally talk to anyone about DNA on file except the individual who submitted it. So if ABGA submits it, we have ACCESS to resolve future issues for members. If the breeder submits it, only they have ACCESS and any future issues that pop up fall on the breeder’s shoulders (and willing participation or ability) to resolve. In this situation, ABGA can’t talk to UC Davis about the DNA, can’t resolve the DNA issue, and can’t help the member in any way other than to tell them what they need to do and send them on their way to do it. As a breeder, you will be forever responsible for helping anyone and everyone who may or may not have your genetics in their animals. As a member, you’re dependent on the willing participation of a breeder you may never have met or done business with.
We deal with this issue almost every day. We have to find a way to fix it. Addressing the OWNERSHIP concern is part of it, and we feel member education is also a big part of it. We hope this initial update helps with the education part.
C – Separate Databases – Since the inception of our DNA Program, ABGA has required that UC Davis provide separation for our database from the overall UC Davis database. What that means is, UC Davis is not allowed to search our database of DNA to try to match a sire or dam to progeny DNA that is submitted directly to them from an individual. So, if you submit DNA with sire verification, dam verification, or both directly to UC Davis, and that sire or dam’s DNA was submitted through ABGA, UC Davis can’t match your DNA submission in the ABGA database and your results will come back as Disqualified for that parent. Even if that animal is the parent of your animal, it will not come back as Verified because its information is in ABGA’s database, which is separate. For those animals that we are requiring either Sire or Parent Verifications on, this is a problem and hinders the process unnecessarily.
There is a simple toggle in the UC Davis system that can be flipped to stop this and open up the database. This will eliminate this issue. Although it has not been flipped yet, the board has voted to flip this switch and open the database to eliminate this issue and streamline this part of the process. Ultimately, the instruction to UC Davis to flip this switch will likely coincide with whatever decisions are finalized from all the discussions in this update.
D – Cost – Many members don’t know that, due to the volume discounts we’ve negotiated with UC Davis, it costs less for a member to submit DNA through ABGA than it does to submit it directly to UC Davis. As we move forward, we’re hoping to find ways to both further reduce costs and increase value to our members.
If we can solve these issues, we believe we can create an environment where members will WANT to send their DNA through ABGA because it will have too much value to consider any other option.
Since we’ve only been talking about Building the DNA Database up to this point. The next logical question becomes “How do we tie DNA results to Registrations?” So, from here on in the update, we’re going to be discussing Registrations.
Pretty much all the options that were listed in number 5 above have a direct effect on the answer to this question. Here’s a basic overview again:
The best option we can see right now is to make the decision on how to best Build the DNA Database based on the recommendations from UC Davis. Then we need to decide how to tie that to registrations in a way that maximizes the results and the benefits across the breed, the organization, and the membership. There are many options here:
We can ignore everything we’ve outlined here and keep everything the way it is. – This will ultimately end in disaster as all the issues outlined above will continue to grow and plague the registration process and the members. We recently dealt with a situation that impacted several members and several animals. For just one of those animals, after failing to match against over a dozen known possible sires with no match, a database search was done that returned more than 50 possible matches for just that one progeny. Another situations we’re dealing with involves a donor doe. She’s not matching for her parent verification, but she’s older and has already had several live kids. So what starts with one doe not matching, now impacts 4 of her own progeny, eight of the kids out of those progeny, and every member that owns one of those animals. These are not strange exceptions or situations, they are common. These issues that arise for one animal will impact many animals and many members.
We can keep the registration requirements the way they are today but implement the new DNA Database requirements. – This would cause the issues with the current registration process to dramatically increase, speeding up the inevitable disaster listed in the previous option. So few
does have DNA markers in our dataset and so many bucks have been registered with sires that were the only animal submitted for verification that very few progeny would pass a DNA Parent Verification requirement and consequently be allowed to be registered.
We can simply require DNA Parent Verification for all animals to be registered starting today. – This would cause two disasters. First, registrations would stop in their tracks. Most animals could no longer be registered since very few does other than donor does have DNA Markers in our database. Second, the cost would be overwhelming to many members and the organization could have a mass exodus.
We could stop requiring DNA for registrations, period.- Although this would end all the registration issues and reduce the cost of ownership making many members happy, it certainly doesn’t appear at first blush to some to be a solid long term solution that represents good stewardship of the breed or the organization. However, it is an option that needs to be stated and possibly considered.
We can act as if we’re starting from scratch and follow that model. – In this scenario, we could temporarily separate the DNA being submitted from Registrations completely in order to Build the Database. Parent Verification would be suspended until some point in the future, maybe 1, 2, or 3 years until members have submitted DNA markers (or Parent Verifications regardless of results based on the current database) for all their breeding does and bucks, at which point Parent Verification could be required for registering all future progeny. This scenario gives us a few different options as to how we could utilize our current Database and gain significant value out of it. But it also places a heavy financial burden on breeders in the short term and all members in the long term.
We could make DNA submission optional and create a “Parent Verified” status for progeny. – This would resolve all the registration issues. It would maximize the accuracy and integrity of the DNA results for those animals on which it’s performed. It would allow breeders to choose whether they want to invest in DNA to receive a higher price for their animals, or reduce their costs and accept potentially lower sales on the back end. It could allow breeders to differentiate themselves and their animals in the market and potentially give buyers more confidence in what they’re purchasing. However, since it’s optional, it clearly does not maximize for the organization the data collected and used across the entire industry. Some say that’s good, some say that’s bad. It’s difficult to quantify.
Which of these options, or some other, is the right solution? We’re not sure yet, that’s what we’re researching and discussing them.
At this point, you have pretty much all the information that’s being discussed and considered.
None of these options checks all the boxes and makes everyone happy. They all have pros and cons.
None of these options is fool proof and can 100% eliminate, much less expose those members who may cheat or game the system.
None of these options can be implemented in such a way that every possible scenario from now till the end of time can be recognized and mitigated.
None of these options can simultaneously maximize the accuracy of the DNA Database results, maintain or reduce costs to members, and provide the best long term solution to the breed, organization, and membership without some short term pain.
However, there is an options that is the best that can be done under the circumstances. Our goal is to find it and implement it as best we can. We hope you will stay positive and support us in this effort.
ABGA Board of Directors