American Horse Council: Watchdog In Washington
There are an estimated six million equines in the United States. In some states, the horse industry is a multi-billion-dollar business, contributing substantially to the state and local tax base, as well as providing employment, entertainment, and education to the community.
Whether a hobby or business, raising or working with horses can be costly. In order to watchdog our industry's concerns in this country and in regulatory negotiations with countries around the world, the American Horse Council (AHC) was formed. The AHC is the lobbying arm for the horse industry, supported by organizations and individuals and charged with protecting the interests of horse owners in the federal arena.
On a more local level, there are currently 32 states which have state horse councils, with approximately 206,000 total members. The State Horse Council Committee meets at the American Horse Council Convention and in the fall of each year to discuss issues facing those who own horses.
The current mission statement of the State Horse Council Committee states: The State Horse Council Committee (SHCC) believes in the value of the horse industry to improve the quality of life for participants, both as a means of producing a livelihood and as a means of providing recreational and sporting opportunities. To this end, the SHCC promotes all facets of the industry by providing national leadership for state horse councils and a forum for state councils to network; and the SHCC adds value to the efforts of the American Horse Council by supporting AHC activities at the local level and representing state horse council needs to the AHC.
So what are the AHC and the state horse councils keeping tabs on for the industry? Horse owners and those in affiliated industries need to be aware of several legislative measures concerning equines that are being debated on the federal level, as well as national and international equine health matters addressed by the AHC's health and regulatory committee.
Among the health issues discussed at the convention was piroplasmosis and the 1996 Summer Olympic Games (see page 43 for complete coverage of that topic).
Another area of great concern is that of equine viral arteritis (EVA), a contagious venereal and respiratory disease that can cause abortion, and can become permanently established in sexually mature males so that they pass the virus on to susceptible mares. However, this disease can be completely controlled with vaccination and proper management techniques.
The problem is, nearly every major equine country in the world has in place rules regulating the importation of horses which test positive for EVA--every country, that is, except the United States. To make matters worse, some breeds that utilize artificial insemination are importing semen that contains the arteritis virus, passing the disease on to unprotected mares.
"We have the weapons to deal with this, and we have the science to know how to control it," said Peter Timoney, FRCVS, head of the Gluck Equine Research Center in Kentucky and one of the world's experts in the study of EVA. "Since 1986, because this country has no restrictions on horses or semen, we have introduced stallions and semen with the virus.
"I have a list of over 300 shedding stallions in this country of different breeds, and few have told mare owners how to deal with this disease," he added.
Mary H. Giddens, DVM, managing director of the Royal Warmblood Studbook of The Netherlands, North American Department, appeared at the AHC health committee meeting to voice the concern of this group because the importation of shedding stallions and infected semen have caused abortions and illness within their ranks.
"If we had known the stallion or semen was positive, we could have taken precautions," said Giddens. "The warmblood industry has done a pretty good job of disseminating this disease around the country by ignorance."
Timoney and the committee don't recommend discriminating against or banning importation of carrier stallions or semen that contains the virus, but they would like the federal government to establish a code of practice to get information to the public when dealing with this disease. Abortion storms on farms in the past 43 years since this disease was "discovered" have sometimes caused the deaths of more than 80% of a single farm's foal crop.
Regionalization--Preparing for the Future
The United States is a signatory of GATT (General Agreement of Tariffs and Trade). It was because of this trade document that the U.S. government had to re-evaluate its stance on piroplasmosis. The agreement requires that a signatory nation's import requirements be "scientifically based and transparent (easily understood by the rest of the world) and that sanitary measures be based upon scientific assessments using regional approaches."
This regional approach to disease is the basis of a USDA proposed rule that takes 280 pages to explain. This rule only applies to ruminants and swine, but regulatory officials don't think the rules that will be formulated for horses will vary greatly from this original document. Because of that, there are concerns over the risk classifications, especially over vaccination recommendations. In other words, things that might be appropriate concerns for cows and pigs as food animals might not be applicable to horses as companion animals. These rules will be the standards that are used if a trade dispute arises between countries who are signatories of GATT and NAFTA (North American Fair Trade Agreement).
As explained by Andy Morgan, DVM, of the USDA's import/export division, this section of the GATT agreement allows countries to look at regional disease freedom. It does not regulate the ability of the United States to regionalize for disease control, such as was done with vesicular stomatitis, just to develop strategy that other countries accept or reject.
The proposed risk classifications range from negligible to high risk to unknown. It is these classifications for ruminants and swine that could possibly be extrapolated for horses under future regulations, so industry leaders are looking at these classifications to make sure that they would be fair to the horse community.
VEE And CEM Revisited
The 1995 outbreak of Venezuelan equine encephalomyelitis in Central Panama resulted in about 30 horses affected, with a 65% mortality rate. Also last year, an outbreak in Venezuela affected more than 500 equine, with 475 deaths, and infected an unknown number of horses in Colombia. In Mexico last year, positive antibodies were found for VEE in 125 horses, but no virus has been isolated in that country since 1993. The concern with this disease is that it could move into North America. The committee members stated that funding is needed to look at the problem of VEE in South and Central America.
In England, an outbreak of contagious equine metritis (CEM) was reported on two stud farms in three stallions. Although the initial source of the infection was unknown, it was thought that at least one infected stallion had gone through an entire breeding season undetected.
The USDA published proposed rule changes for contagious equine metritis, and the summary is as follows:
"We are proposing to amend the regulations regarding the importation of horses from countries affected with contagious equine metritis to incorporate new testing and treatment protocols for mares and stallions, provide for the use of accredited veterinarians to monitor horses temporarily imported into the United States for competition purposes, incorporate a new testing protocol for Thoroughbred horses in training in their country of origin, and remove the requirements for endometrial cultures and clitoral sinusectomies in mares. These proposed changes are intended to update, clarify, and streamline the existing regulations. The proposed changes would simplify the requirements for importing horses from countries affected with contagious equine metritis without increasing the risk of the disease being introduced into or disseminated within the United States."
Opening Canadian Borders
Canada has proposed dropping the requirement for a federal health certificate and eliminate border inspections of horses coming from the United States. These actions might go into effect as soon as 1997. A representative of the Canadian Equestrian Federation said there has been no negative feedback from the Canadian horse industry from this proposal, which would not have to be reciprocated by the United States for passage in Canada.
There was a concern in Canada that because of deregulation of the Canadian government that border crossings would not have as many veterinarians, so horses would have to travel farther and wait longer for a border inspection. It was remarked that the current 30-day stay for horses has been in effect for more than three years with no reported problems. There also has been an increase in the price of a federal health certificate from $10 to $26.50.
Canada will still require a negative equine infectious anemia test (Coggins).
EIA And AHS Information From USDA
The USDA Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) is in the final stages of preparing a video and accompanying booklet for veterinarians and horse owners on equine infectious anemia, reported Tim Cordes, DVM, the equine specialist and a senior staff veterinarian with the National Animal Health Staff of APHIS. The video, entitled Equine Infectious Anemia: How To Protect Your Horse, and the accompanying 12-page booklet entitled Equine Infectious Anemia: A Status Report on Its Control, 1996, offer practical and technical information on EIA and the viruses that cause the disease.
The video is "dedicated to veterinarians and horse owners alike to increase awareness of equine infectious anemia (EIA). It offers educational insights on the virus and the disease by presenting the most recent scientific information and methods of control."
Cordes said the booklet, which is geared to those with a higher level of understanding of the disease, will be updated about every two years to allow the USDA to disseminate the most up-to-date information on EIA to veterinarians and horse owners.
There was committee discussion on the need for uniformity in testing for EIA and on follow-up of reactors. Members noted that there should be a commitment to improve the control of EIA in this country.
Permanent Private Quarantine Stations
The question of allowing the government to license permanent private quarantine stations for horses entering this country has again been raised. The health committee said the AHC remains opposed to permanent private quarantine stations because of risk, need, compliance, and enforcement concerns. The committee noted that their opposition is only for permanent stations, not temporary ones licensed for use at specific equine events.
U.S. Health Monitoring Study
The United States in 1998 will undertake a project that has never been approached by the federal government before--it will conduct a health monitoring study of equines in the United States. The study was explained by Josie Traub-Dargatz, DVM, MS, Diplomate ACVIM, of Colorado State University (see The Horse of October 1995, page 18).
Traub explained that the group planning the study is seeking input from organizations and industry to define the study focus, which has to be on an area that has not been studied by other groups, and has national scope. Participants in the study will have their responses held in confidence, and no tax or regulatory implications will be felt by respondents.
"The question is, where are there gaps in horse health information," said Traub. "However, if we don't have the horse industry's cooperation (in the study), it will fail, so we want to get information that the industry wants."
National Economic Impact Study
The AHC is in the final stages of conducting a survey of the horse industry in the United States. The study hopes to pinpoint figures for gross domestic product, personal income, and employment, including a head count of horses by breed and of people involved in the industry (including owners, service providers, employees, and volunteers). Although the study covers all breeds and disciplines, it will focus on Thoroughbreds and Quarter Horses with 11 representative states--California, Colorado, Florida, Idaho, Illinois, Kentucky, Maryland, New York, Ohio, Oklahoma, and Texas.
Surveys were mailed to a sample population derived from the membership lists of 20 different organizations, with additional lists of people not necessarily affiliated with organizations. Currently, there are about 5,000 responses back from 31,112 sent out, which is about what the survey organization expected. Racetracks and off-track betting facilities also were surveyed, with 187 questionnaires sent out, and only 60 returned.
The data will be used to perform an economic impact analysis, and the results will be presented in a comprehensive report. These statistics will allow credible information on the economic benefits of the horse industry to be publicized, allow quick response to policy threats, and provide proactive information for policy formation.
Final results from the survey are expected in October.
Because of their lobbying mission, the AHC gave in-depth briefings on current and upcoming legislation that could affect horse owners and those in associated businesses. One that was scheduled to go before the Senate's Finance Committee (already passed by the House) was H.R. 3448.
The current Internal Revenue Code allows taxpayers to expense up to $17,500 of depreciable property, including horses, placed into service during a tax year. This was intended as a small business tax incentive, according to the AHC. The deduction is limited in that if a taxpayer puts more than $200,000 into service in a single year, the amount allowed to be expensed is
reduced dollar-for-dollar. Thus, the higher end of the horse business gets little, if any, benefit from the provision since their
purchases of all business assets, including horses, will generally exceed $217,500 per year and therefore the deduction is not available.
On May 14, the House Ways and Means Committee approved the Small Business Job Protection Act of 1996 that eliminates the current expense deduction for horses in the Tax Code, noted the AHC in an issue brief. On May 22, the House of Representatives passed H.R. 3448. The provision is effective for horses placed into service after May 14, 1996. This would make horses one of the few capital assets not eligible for the expense deduction and clearly make their purchase less attractive.
The provision is characterized as a technical correction in that it is suggested that when the section of the Tax Code containing it was amended in 1990, it was not intended to include horses within the business assets that could be expensed. The AHC pointed out that there is no valid reason to differentiate between
horses and other business assets in this matter. The brief added that the provision has been helpful to investment in the horse industry by small owners and breeders.
Another issue brief from AHC discussed the National Recreational Trails Fund Act (NRTFA). This was originally passed as part of the comprehensive transportation legislation known as ISTEA (Intermodal Surface Transportation Efficiency Act). ISTEA will need to be authorized in 1997, as will the NRTFA. In addition to reauthor-ization, it is important that the program has the same contract authority granted to other programs within the Department of Transportation.
In November, President Bill Clinton signed the National Highway System Act, which contained $30 million over two years for the NRTFA. It also amended the program so that funding is automatic and not subject to annual appropriations. This legislation also restores $15 million annually to the fund for fiscal years 1996 and 1997. The Trails Fund Act was also amended to require a 50% match of funds, services, or materials from the non-federal partner. These funds are critical to building and improving trails for recreational riding throughout the country.
About the Author
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.
POLL: University Equine Hospitals