Do you want a say-so in what the United States government is doing that concerns horses? I’m talking about the issue of allowing equine semen into this country with even less testing than presently is required. Horse breeders know that semen can carry a lot more than the hopes of the next generation. Viruses, bacteria, and a host of other contaminants happily can travel along with the semen. Cooling and freezing are great ways to prolong the life of sperm and keep them viable. Guess what? It works the same way for all those “bad guys” that come with the sperm!

The USDA is proposing to eliminate import requirements for mule semen from anywhere in the world and for equine semen from Canada. “We believe these changes are warranted because these imports pose no threat of introducing diseases to U.S. livestock,” said Alfonso Torres, deputy administrator of the veterinary services program of the Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS), a part of the USDA.

(To be on the same page as the government, realize that mules are hybrids that cannot reproduce. This doesn’t mean a Mammoth jack in another country could have semen shipped in without testing. That jack is classified as an ass.)

The Canadians de-regulated our semen a couple of years ago, and our government wants to reciprocate. The feeling is that the Canadian import regulations on semen are “close enough” to ours that we won’t be opening ourselves up for any more problems than we do under our own regulations.

This new proposal is unacceptable for several reasons, including the following:

1) There are number of pathogens that can be spread via the venereal route. Those confirmed to be transmitted by stallions are mostly bacterial—Streptococcus zooepidemicus, Klebsiella pneumoniae, Pseudomonas aeruginosa, Taylorella equigenitalis (the causative agent of contagious equine metritis), and Salmonella abortus equi. There are a couple of viral pathogens that can be passed in the stallion’s ejaculate—equine viral arteritis and equine coital examthema—and one protozoal infection (dourine) that’s passed the same way.

2) While the “state of the industry” is to extend semen with an antibiotic that would kill most of the bacteria (but do nothing against other pathogens), there is nothing on the import forms that requires, or even asks, if semen extenders with antibiotics were used. Semen is fragile, as are some of these organisms. A hold-up in importation of fresh cooled semen for testing could destroy that shipment. But couldn’t we request one sample straw be extracted every so often and tested, just to be sure? Couldn’t we require that testing laboratories in other countries meet certain requirements?

3) There are a number of pathogens that, while scientifically unproven, are thought by leading virologists potentially to be spread by the venereal route by the stallion. They include equine infectious anemia (EIA) and piroplasmosis, both of which have a carrier state in males and long-term persistence of the agents in the bloodstream. Others that potentially could be transmitted venereally by the stallion are African horse sickness, Venezuelan equine encephalomyelitis, vesicular stomatitis, and Q fever. With this group, the possibility of passage of the causative agent probably would occur only if the stallion were in the acute phase of the disease. (You might notice a sick stallion with a live cover, but what about shipped semen? Stallions are supposed to be checked and “clean” before collection in the country of origin, but we are completely dependent on their tests. Something that hasn’t proven fool-proof in live animals, as I’ll discuss shortly.)

Of all the problems listed above that are confirmed to be venereally transmitted by the stallion, all but contagious equine metritis (CEM), dourine, and salmonellosis due to S. abortus equi occur in the United States. But even if they do occur here, that doesn’t mean we want more of them, especially if we don’t know we are infecting our mares at breeding.

Semen is imported into the United States based on the tests of the exporting country. Some of those countries request other tests on our semen/horses, including for EVA. Why do we want to become a “dumping ground” for EVA horses, or semen?

4) Under the “let’s get real” category is the thought that “Canadian” semen will originate only in Canada. How many times have live horses been shipped to and from other countries via Canada to get around certain of our import or export requirements? Are we just going to be “hopeful” that the semen will have been imported legally into Canada?

5) Finally, we have a collective responsibility as horse owners to protect all equids in the United States from diseases, especially those that could cause devastating effects on the animals themselves, cause financial ruin to the owners of the animals, or restrict transportation of animals within this country or to other countries.

The Other Direction

The USDA needs stricter regulations on imported semen. They should not lower the protective bar that is in place. There have been at least eight cases in the past few years when stallions with CEM have crossed into the United States and have been discovered to be shedders. In all cases, these horses were “cleared” from their countries of origin as being free of specific diseases, including CEM.

Fortunately for us, our quarantine facilities caught these horses. In a couple of cases, however, they were discovered to be carriers after release into the general population!

We must demand that other countries fulfill their part of the import bargain. Why is the United States government not standing up for our rights? If other countries’ testing regulations aren’t good enough, then they should be made to improve them. Sure you catch more flies with honey, but sometimes you have to swat the buggers, or put up a fly zapper! Aren’t a few years enough time for the honey treatment?

We must demand that our government not allow equids or their biological products (semen or ova) into this country without specific testing being done to protect our horses. All imported semen should be tested for the diseases known to be passed venereally. If tested in the country of origin, then those tests occasionally should be verified. If we don’t allow import of the animals which carry these pathogens (and untrustingly test for them again here), why should we allow the Federal Express version?

Comments to the USDA on this proposal must be in by March 27. Unfortunately, our government has yet to welcome the 21st Century, and all comments must be mailed. Send your letter and three copies to Docket No. 99-023-1, Regulatory Analysis and Development, PPD, APHIS, Suite 3C03, 4700 River Road, Unit 118, Riverdale, Md. 20737-1238.

Information on this proposed rule by the USDA can be viewed on the internet at

Please, write in and let our government know we take our horses’ health—and our industry—seriously.

About the Author

Kimberly S. Brown

Kimberly S. Brown was the Publisher/Editor of The Horse: Your Guide To Equine Health Care from June 2008 to March 2010, and she served in various positions at Blood-Horse Publications since 1980.

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