CEM Rule Amended for Entertainment Horses

The USDA has amended its import rules to allow noncompetitive entertainment horses to be temporarily brought into the U.S. from countries affected with contagious equine metritis (CEM), a venereal disease of horses. The final rule, titled "Temporary Importation of Horses: Noncompetitive Entertainment Horses From Countries Affected with Contagious Equine Metritis," is effective July 7, 2008.

Noncompetitive entertainment horses are those that participate in performances or exhibitions and are not entered into competitions, such as races or shows. Examples of such horses include circus horses, the Lipizzaner Horses of Austria, and the performance stallions in Cavalia.

Contagious equine metritis is caused by Taylorella equigenitalis, a Gram-negative bacterium. Although it can affect fertility, the highly contagious venereal disease often causes no clinical signs. Contagious equine metritis is considered a foreign animal disease in the United States, but it has afflicted horses here via imported stallions and semen.

The new rule allows these non-competitive entertainment horses to enter the U.S. without having to be test bred under a special permit that is longer than the 90 day permit for competitive horses. The new rules impose additional requirements for the importation of these horses, including additional information that must be provided to apply for a permit and the plans and itineraries for housing, transit, and performances while in the U.S. The permits, if approved, will last for one year, and the importer can apply to renew the permit.

The rules require that these noncompetitive entertainment horses be imported and maintained in the United States though a trust fund agreement executed by the horse's owner or importer. This would ensure that the government is reimbursed for the services it provides, such as administrative costs and costs for a USDA representative to monitor the horses. The agreement is also intended to ensure that the importer will be able to fully uphold the requirements specified for these horses over extended periods of time.

"The American Horse Council has been working on this issue for some time, and is pleased that the final rule has been published and will soon go into effect" states Kerry Thompson, American Horse Council director of health and regulatory affairs. "It will provide appropriate requirements to allow the importation of these unique entertainment horses, while maintaining the safeguards currently in place for the U.S. horse population."

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