Here’s the thing to remember that gets forgotten.  One of the functions of trademarks and appellations of origin is to act as shorthand.  As Judge Posner might put it, consumers save time and money searching products by choosing a brand, as opposed to doing exhaustive analysis of propsective purchases.

One such shorthand is BLACK ANGUS.  Angus is a breed of cattle that tends to be more tender than, say, beef from Herefords.  As a result, beef bearing the name ANGUS began to earn a premium.  For reasons not quite clear in this NPR story, at some point the FDA allowed cattlemen to use the term ANGUS to refer to any predominantly black cow that doesn’t ‘show the traits of other breeds.’  So cattlemen breed their cows to look predominantly black.

The result was diminution of the quality of ANGUS beef.  ViaGen, a life sciences company, did DNA testing of beef sold under the  ANGUS name, and discovered that some samples came from cows that had more genetic material in common with Brahmin cattle than with Angus.  Brahmin apparently is less tender.

Now ViaGen is developing a DNA test so that only beef that meets such a test can bear an Angus certification mark.

However, this is where the shorthand part gets forgotten.  Customers don’t want Angus beef in and of itself – they want tender beef.  As a scientist in the NPR story points out – the term ANGUS is not a guarantee that 100% of all such cattle carry the tenderness gene. 

A different approach would be to develop a test not for Angus genes but for tenderness genes.

Interesting thought: brands and appellations of origin can deliver best guesses as to quality but science can, maybe, deliver on such promises.