MELBOURNE, Australia – Meat & Livestock Australia (MLA) recently launched a federal court challenge to two patent applications filed by Cargill and Branhaven LLC, a private holding company, that cover cattle genetic selection methods.

The Australia Patent Office granted a patent to Cargill and Branhaven that MLA believes is a bid to patent general discoveries of nature in cattle research. The patent is so broad, MLA said, that it could affect genomic selection for all cattle production traits. Cattle producers in Australia pay mandatory fees for research and development. The Australian government matches those funds with roughly 15 percent of the money going to genomic research.

The broadest claim, according to MLA, states: “A method for identifying a trait of a bovine subject from a nucleic acid sample of the bovine subject, comprising identifying in the nucleic acid sample an occurrence of at least three single nucleotide polymorphisms (SNPs) wherein the at least three SNPs are associated with the trait, and wherein the at least three SNPs occur in more than one gene and wherein at least one of the SNPs corresponds to approximately 2500 listed SNPs, or within 500,000 or less nucleotides from the listed SNPs.”

“At a minimum, MLA believes the granting of the patent will discourage or hamper industry research into understanding the natural genetic makeup of cattle and the continued progress of Australia’s national genetic improvement programs,” the organization said in a statement. “In turn, MLA fears there will be a subsequent impact on farm productivity and ultimately the Australian red meat industry, given the contribution that genetic improvement makes to their international competitiveness.”

In response, Peter McBride, director of Corporate Affairs for Cargill in Australia, said the company is disappointed that the matter has resulted in a legal dispute.

“Cargill does not have full or independent ownership of this patent application but rather owns it jointly with Branhaven (a company that acquired its interest in the patent following the bankruptcy of our previous partner, Metamorphix),” McBride said in a statement to MEAT+POULTRY.

“Joint ownership means that Cargill cannot act independently in relation to the patent application (including in relation to any litigation). Cargill also cannot license or withdraw the patent application without the consent of Branhaven. “

Cargill Australia is not part of the court proceedings, MLS noted; and McBride said Cargill is not actively defending the appeal. “Cargill will continue to work with all interested parties to seek a resolution to this matter,” McBride said.