AHC Keeps Close Watch On Foot and Mouth Disease

The American Horse Council has learned that recent reports saying horses are not permitted entry into the U.S. from the European Union are erroneous. Some of the misunderstanding results from a U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) press release from March 13, 2001, which said that “all animals and animal products are temporarily prohibited entry from the European Union”.

“This is not true. At this time, what the USDA has done is place a ban on the importation of all ruminants (cud-chewing animals such as cattle) and swine and all products from those animals”, stated Dr. Karen James, Director of the USDA Veterinary Services National Center for Import and Export, in answer to AHC inquiries into the reports. “This ban augments those restrictions already in place as a result of BSE in Europe. Horses are not included in the list of prohibited animals and may be imported from Europe at this time.”

Rumors abound about an imminent ban on equine imports and USDA is under great pressure to prohibit the importation of horses even though there are measures in place to guard against introducing the virus. Australia banned the importation of horses from England and Ireland as of March 13. Canada has also stopped the import of horses from England.

The outbreak of Foot-and-Mouth Disease (FMD) in England and France has caused significant concern in the U.S. Heightened measures have been put in place to prevent the introduction of this highly contagious and economically devastating disease. These concerns have spilled over into the horse industry as calls for even stricter import standards threaten to include horses.

“FMD is a very serious disease and its threat to U.S. animal agriculture cannot be understated” said Jay Hickey, AHC President. “Horses, like humans, are not susceptible to the virus but can be carriers of it. Therefore, horses moved from infected areas must be treated carefully to eliminate any particles of the virus that may be present. Measures such as foot baths and spraying are in place for horses imported from FMD countries, now including the European Union.”

USDA's additional measures to guard against FMD include not only the foot baths and disinfecting of horses but also prohibiting travelers from carrying into the United States any agricultural products, particularly animal products, that could spread the disease.

Importers are advised to strictly limit the equipment accompanying horses that are imported. Normally, the equipment that accompanies an imported horse is remanded upon arrival to the custody of the importer so that it does not get shipped with the horse to the import facility. USDA will no longer do this. USDA Veterinary Services personnel at the point of entry will determine the feasibility of disinfecting or impounding the equipment on a case-by-case basis.

Farms and facilities also might consider instituting additional safeguards such as foot baths for horses and humans arriving from Europe. Additionally, any blankets, clothing and appropriate tack, including all grooming equipment, boots and shipping containers should be disinfected immediately prior to shipment from Europe. If these cleaning and disinfecting procedures are not done in the country of origin prior to export they should be done immediately upon arrival to the U.S.

USDA has also stopped permitting quarantines at events sites for temporarily imported competition horses from the European Union. All EU-origin horses must complete their quarantine at a USDA facility.

“It is important to remember that for many years horses have been imported into the U.S. from FMD-infected countries without introduction of the virus. The last outbreak of FMD in the U.S. occurred in 1929. Since that time hundreds of thousands of horses have been imported into the U.S. from countries where active cases of FMD have occurred.” says Mr. Hickey. “Nonetheless, the situation is a very serious one. The horse industry must do its part in preventing the spread of the disease. The AHC will watch the matter closely and keep the industry informed.”

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