Genomics battle just part of bigger change

Industry needs to take a whole of supply chain look


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Knowing how to use data and information will become more important than who owns it

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The Cargill/Branhaven LLC genomics patent application has come as a bit of as shock to the system for the cattle industry.

Genetic technology has been a growth area across agriculture for decades, but now its reach in livestock industries is quickly expanding, it has sparked new fears around ownership and ethics.

Late last year, we saw Australian Wool Innovation having to negotiate the use of genomic intellectual property with the Sheep Co-operative Research Centre for use in its Merino Lifetime Productivity Project.

This sparked debate around the access and ownership different parties should have.

Now it’s the beef industry’s turn, as Branhaven and Cargill face off with Meat and Livestock Australia (which also has a stake in the Sheep CRC’s genomics) over whether certain technology should be patented.

To rub salt into the wound, is the fact Branhaven doesn’t have a stake in the beef game, and yet its patent could increase the cost of using half our current genomics tests.

This is a reality of private research – the discoveries and technology can be sold. That’s the incentive for taking it on. 

It does come with risk, especially if the owner puts a price on access that becomes a barrier. And is why the Sheep CRC is keeping that industry’s tricks close to its chest.

But is that wasting energy? And how does all this fit into bigger trends?

Advertising specialists have for years had algorithms based on our behaviour to determine what and how to market to us. Increasingly, this is used along the supply chain, predicting what consumers might want based on what part of the world they’re in, they’re lifestyle, political affiliation (ie big data at work).

If we’re smart, at the other end we'll be tailoring genetics to make the right sort of lamb or steer to be finished for market at just the right time to get the best price.

Not all the carcase will go to the one location. Data will show which market the flank strap will be best suited, versus the silverside, or fillet, or whether more should be minced. We’ll be able to plan our genetic selection so the specs of each cut best suit all the markets when the product is needed.

In short, the Cargill/Branhaven case is a small part of a bigger information trend. We need to learn where we fit to take advantage of how we can tailor genetics to grasp the bigger market opportunities.

A decision on the Cargill/Branhaven patent application is due after March 23.

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