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Tuesday, February 27, 2024
Courthouse News Service
Tuesday, February 27, 2024 | Back issues
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Goats of Many Colors? Not if They’re Pygmy

SAN DIEGO (CN) - Breeders who raise gray and brown pygmy goats sued the National Pygmy Goat Association, claiming it eliminated pygmy goats with precisely that color combination from the registry to reduce competition and help breeders of goats of other colors.

Seven pygmy goat breeders and five businesses who claim a long and successful history of showing and selling gray-brown agouti goats sued the National Pygmy Goat Association (NPGA), on antitrust and trademark claims.

They claim that "breeders without this type of goat began a campaign to eliminate them from the registry," which would "render these goats useless in a business capacity as well as decrease competition and raise sales for those breeders without the gray/brown agoutis."

The NPGA is the world's largest pygmy goat registry and membership organization, and has registered more than 113,700 pygmy goats in the past 35 years.

The organization's rules and breed standards control which pygmy goats can be registered and whether a goat is valuable or relatively worthless. The NPGA has control over what constitutes "an economically viable pygmy goat," according to the lawsuit.

For more than 30 years, the "Breed Characteristics" section of the "Breed Standards" stated that "all body colors are acceptable." In particular, the agouti goat, which has lighter and darker hairs that intermingle, was always allowed to be any color, the agouti breeders say in the complaint.

In 2008, the NPGA board - which is mainly made up of the agouti breeders' competitors - received a complaint that the gray/brown color pattern was "undesirable," as it was believed to be a trait of a Nigerian Dwarf goat instead of a pygmy goat. Plaintiff Donna Elkins was accused of being behind the cross-breeding that produced the gray/brown goat - though both parents of the goat in question were registered with the NPGA, according to the complaint.

The board heard a suggestion that the breed standards be changed to remove the "all colors acceptable" language - a recommendation favored by those who did not own any gray/brown agoutis because it would make them more likely to win at competitions, and help their businesses - but the board instead decided to clarify the color pattern, according to the complaint.

"Because removing the 'all colors' language was not approved, the proponents were upset and mounted an email campaign that continues to falsely allege that the gray/brown coloring was from a cross-breeding with a Nigerian Dwarf goat. They alleged that since they do not have the gray/brown color in their herds, it would be impossible to show up in plaintiffs' herds except through fraudulent and impure crossbreeding," the agouti breeders say in the complaint.

The competitors began a "Just Say No to Tri-Color" campaign - claiming that gray/brown agouti pygmy goats were impure - and after three failed attempts, persuaded the board to remove the "all colors" language from the breed standard in 2010, according to the complaint.

Although breeders were assured that the gray/brown agouti would still be a registerable goat under a different category, subsequent registrations for many agouti goats were denied. Previously registered gray/brown agoutis were effectively unable to register, the agouti breeders say.

"A pygmy goat without NPGA papers is a virtually worthless breeding animal," the complaint states. "Meaningful economic participation in the pygmy goat industry is nearly impossible without NPGA registration, as most profits come from breeding and buyers require NPGA registration."

Adding insult to injury, NPGA officials began spreading false statements about agouti breeders, calling lead plaintiff Debra Hosley's business a "puppy mill," and accusing Elkins of fraudulently trying to create "interesting colors" for her goats through impure crossbreeding, according to the complaint.

In June 2013, the board approved a motion disqualifying goats from competition for "nonconformity of color/pattern." Before that meeting, the grey-brown agouti was accepted in competitions and had been awarded championships by NPGA judges.

"Now animals that are fully registered, some with Grand Champion wins, will no longer be able to enter the show ring to compete. Animals that are Permanent Grand Champions will not be able to compete for Master Champion or National Champion," the agouti breeders say in the complaint.

The breeders claim that disqualifying the gray/brown agouti goats "unreasonably restricted the supply of pygmy goats by eliminating an entire color (that was previously accepted) thus raising the price." (Parentheses in complaint.)

The plaintiffs call these rules "naked restraints" in violation of the Sherman Act and state antitrust laws.

They seek punitive damages and an injunction ordering the NPGA to register grey/brown agouti pygmy goats.

They are represented by Edward W. Burns with Burns, Schaldenbrand, Rodriguez in Oceanside.

The NPGA did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

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