The general manager of GeneSeek, one of the two main beef genomic testing firms, had some interesting stories to tell Wednesday afternoon.
I sat down to chat with Stewart Bauck, along with co-worker Burt Rutherford of BEEF magazine, at the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association national convention and trade show in Nashville, Tennessee. GeneSeek is the sales arm of the genetic testing firm Igenity, and both are owned by Neogen.
Bauck told us the company’s level of beef genomic testing shot up dramatically last year, from 600,000 in 2012 to 1 million tests in 2013. That and increased usage among other species using their genomic testing actually forced the company to build new facilities.
Bauck said the number of repeat buyers of their beef cattle testing products tells him people are getting what they want from the tests and are building trust in those same products.
Bauck also told us he fields many calls from food sellers interested in traceability. He said they seem to be torn between using traceability for protection and using it for marketing. In parts of Europe and at a few specialty retailers in the US, meat products are sold along with information about the farmer/rancher who produced the animal.
“Folks are conflicted,” Bauck said. “They don’t know whether they want to market to millennials, who want to know all that stuff, or whether they want to limit their liability.”
The way Bauck describes the inquiries it sounds like a prevalence of “story beef” across US grocery stores is several years or more away.
Bauck also told us that genomic testing of dairy animals is still the number one category, by species. He said tests of dogs for breed purity and breed determination is number two. Beef cattle testing is number three by volume. Pig genomic testing is number four.
There’s an interesting story underlying the dog testing numbers. Bauck says the company purchased a smaller testing company a while back and thereby acquired all the purebred testing for the American Kennel Club. This makes up less than half of the company’s dog DNA testing. The rest is simply testing mongrel dogs for breed makeup.
It seems some entrepreneur decided he could market this breed testing to people who have a pet dog they love and have no idea of its ancestry. Bauck describes it as a test for the “guy who has everything and is hard to buy a gift for but has a dog he loves dearly.”
It has become such a voluminous business that the post office has to run one truck a day to the plant to deliver the arriving samples.
One other big user of genomic testing is timber companies, primarily those using pine and eucalyptus. Bauck says they measure and test for the best/highest production of the material they want and then simply clone the genetic material to produce more of those trees. With pine it is mostly for wood and wood pulp. With eucalyptus it can as easily be selection for copious leaf growth for production of aromatics for medicines and perfumes.