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Who Owns Your Data, and Where Is It?

Panel discusses changes in the way genetic data is being collected and the access ranchers have to it.

by Julie Mais, editor; Lindsay King, assistant editor; Megan Silveria, editorial intern

LOVELAND, Colo., June 22, 2018 — As the amount of genetic data steadily grows, ranchers seem to have a lot of questions regarding how data is stored and owned. At a panel discussion at the Beef Improvement Federation Symposium and Convention in Loveland, Colo., five cattlemen gathered to discuss “Who Owns Your Data and Where Is It?”

Not unlike many cattlemen, Wade Shafer, American Simmental Association (ASA) executive vice president, admits he was once one who didn’t pay attention to the data ownership and intellectual property rights topic.

Until a few years ago, he relied on land-grant university Extension programs, breed associations and the USDA to provide cutting-edge technology in an open-source and free-flowing fashion.

“A few years ago, I became keenly aware of intellectual property rights and patents,” Shafer said. “Today, this is a germane topic and important in our industry.”

Shafer addressed the group representing not only ASA, but also International Genetic Solutions (IGS), a collaboration between breed associations committed to enhancing commercial profitability.

Shafer said the most high-profile collaboration of IGS is the genetic evaluation powered by the new genetic evaluation software, BOLT (Biometric Open Language Tools, owned by Theta Solutions, LLC).

Speaking to the question, “Who owns your data and where is it?” Shafer said IGS partners handle genotype ownership differently. All Canadian partners “share data,” meaning the breeder owns their animal genotypes and shares the data with their respective associations. The American partners both share data and a few breed associations own data sent in by breeders.

“As for IGS, all data submitted becomes a permanent record in the IGS genetic evaluation,” Shafer said.

Shafer said he appreciates the collaboration that built IGS, and said he hopes members of the beef industry can continue to work together.

“I would like to see the industry maintain open and free-flowing type of platform,” Shafer said. “I understand the importance of intellectual property rights and the need to innovate and continue to make progress, but I hope to find reasonable balance between the two.”

Matt Cleveland, director of global beef product development at Genus ABS, is another cattleman wanting to provide genetic data capable of assisting ranchers in increasing profitability.

“We’re in the business of increasing beef,” Cleveland said. “Our goal is to produce a high-quality beef that can nourish people.”

Cleveland believes collecting genetic data of economically relevant traits will drive genetic improvement. ABS is currently collecting data in more than 70 countries and has created a full life-cycle data collection process for both beef and dairy cattle.

By using a “tailored and targeted approach” to collecting genetic data, Cleveland said the cattle industry is moving forward in the way it applies genomics to breeding decisions.

“We have moved into the era of genetic evaluation,” said Larry Benyshek of Benyshek and Hough Consulting Services. “We’ve moved from a way of life to a business. We have become consumer-driven. Consumers reign supreme.”

Benyshek said with this focus on consumers, ranchers need to be consistently improving the way they collect genetic data. While he said it takes time for knowledge to get filtered down to the point where it can be put to use in the beef industry, Benyshek’s Genetic and Economic Management (GEM) program is helping to speed this process.

GEM is a web-based data management program with a couple hundred thousand users. Benyshek said his program contains both public and private sectors, but it is helping genetic data flow freely through different aspects of the beef industry. GEM is providing ranchers with a way to gather and archive genetic data and then turn it into productive information.

John Genho, owner and geneticist of Livestock Genetic Services LLC, evaluates genomic information for commercial ranches as well as 10 different breed associations. He compared data ownership to Google Maps. Everyone is sending data in and benefits from it, but nobody can see individual data and its ownership.

“I started working King Ranch 15 years ago to develop a genetic evaluation program for traits they did not have EPDs (expected progeny differences) for,” Genho said. “They have a whole suite of traits they are selecting for and now have a symbiotic partnership with Santa Gertrudis Breeders International.”

King Ranch did what was best for their business and are still sharing data. They don’t share all of their data, but the information that is important to the association.

In exchange, the association gives data to the ranch. Nobody wants to share something if they don’t get value from that relationship,” Genho finished.

Dan Moser, president of Angus Genetics Inc., said when thinking about this subject, the word “stewardship” comes to mind.

“Our grandparents show us the photos on the wall of the river where they moved cattle,” he said. “Then we hop in the truck and see that same river, preserved. That is how we think about databases.”

Moser started working with the American Angus Association and its database in 1999, signing an extensive agreement pertaining to the ownership and transfer of the data. Now on the other side of the agreement, Moser stands by the standards set by the Association long ago that stand today.

“Angus members have made a significant investment in data recording. Now our job is to provide as much return on investment as we can back to them,” Moser said. “The other part of our job is to preserve that data, as well. We are thinking about today as well as tomorrow.”

Samples used for data collection are sealed tight in a vault at Association headquarters. Keeping these samples proves more valuable each day.

“By keeping the samples, we are able to conduct further testing at a later time,” Moser added. “We can go back and test an animal for say a genetic disorder instead of sampling all of its progeny. It has worked well for us in the past.”

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