Horse Industry Leaders Meet with Agriculture Secretary Veneman

Horse industry leaders met with United States Department of Agriculture Secretary Ann Veneman during the National Issues Forum of the American Horse Council (AHC) in Washington, D.C., April 20. The meeting provided an opportunity to explain the economic importance of the horse industry; how the equine industry is participating in the Department's important initiative to develop a national identification system for livestock; the industry's efforts to make horses eligible for federal disaster relief; and the importance of the USDA's upcoming meetings with the country's European Union (EU) trading partners.

Jay Hickey, President of the AHC, gave Secretary Veneman an overview of the economic size and importance of the horse industry in the United States, noting it involves 6.9 million horses, 7 million Americans, has an economic effect of $112 billion, supports 1.4 million jobs and pays over $2 billion in taxes at various levels. He also pointed out that the median income of horse-owning families is $60,000, illustrating that the backbone of the industry is average Americans.

National Animal Identification Plan
A principal topic of discussion was the Department's efforts to institute a national animal identification system for livestock in case of a major disease outbreak. Several members of the AHC Task Force on Equine Identification were present and updated Secretary Veneman on the horse industry's involvement.

Dan Fick, of The Jockey Club and chair of the task force, explained that the horse industry had held several meetings and saw benefits to a national identification system involving the horse industry, but noted that there were still many critical issues to be considered and resolved.

Jim Morehead, DVM, of the American Association of Equine Practitioners and chair of the Premises ID Subcommittee of the Task
Force, explained that one of these thorny issues was what was a "premises" in the horse industry that would need an ID number. Morehead noted that there could be many locations involved and that the Subcommittee was trying to define such locations and identify the potential responsibilities of any "premises manager" under a national identification system.

Ward Stutz, of the American Quarter Horse Association and chair of the Tracking/Movement Subcommittee, pointed out that horses move more frequently than other animals and often individually, thus making the task of tracking their movement difficult.

Cindy Schonholtz, of the professional Rodeo Cowboys Association and chair of the Subcommittee on Communications, explained to Secretary Veneman that the confidentiality of any information collected through the system was very important to the horse industry. An exemption from the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) should be ensured before any system is mandated, Schonholtz suggested.

Amy Mann of the AHC also noted that the cost of a national identification system would be considerable. She suggested that federal funds to assist livestock sectors to set up and operate a system would be essential to any program's success.

Secretary Veneman expressed appreciation for the industry's involvement in this national effort. She agreed that there seemed to be confusion among some horse owners about the ID system, noting that many of the comments that the USDA had received from horse owners on the national animal identification plan indicated a misunderstanding as to what was being proposed. She also said that a voluntary system would be initiated before any system was mandated by USDA. Veneman also noted that confidentiality was a primary concern of the Department, as was cost and funding.

Disaster Relief for the Horse Industry
David Switzer, of the Kentucky Thoroughbred Association, explained that the horse industry has been working to have all horses included among the agricultural products that are eligible for federal emergency relief in case of a disaster. The problems that the industry has faced when an area has been struck by a disaster are the same as other livestock and crop producers, but horse owners are ineligible for the federal relief that other agricultural producers

Switzer noted that a special federal appropriation was needed to help Kentucky horseowners who suffered losses caused by the 2001 outbreak of mare reproductive loss syndrome. That had a $336 million negative economic impact on central Kentucky, he noted.

Stutz also pointed out that many cattle breeders in the Southwest are eligible for drought relief and feed assistance, but horse owners in the same area are not. That is inequitable, he said.

Secretary Veneman was aware of this issue and appeared sympathetic.

Upcoming USDA Meetings with EU
Peter Timoney, FRCVS, PhD, of the Department of Veterinary Science at the University of Kentucky, discussed the importance of the upcoming meetings between representatives of the USDA's Veterinary Services and the European Union. He noted that ten new countries will be admitted to the EU shortly and there are no intra-community restrictions on trade in livestock, including horses. Since the veterinary infrastructure in some of those new countries is not equivalent to that of the existing members states,  the American horse industry is concerned with the potential trade implications to the United States over the introduction of equine diseases. He asked that the USDA take this into consideration during the upcoming meeting with the EU to minimize any risk.

Secretary Veneman and her staff appeared very appreciative of the opportunity to hear first-hand of the concerns of the horse industry.

"Secretary Veneman was very generous in giving us so much time to discuss several issues important to the horse industry," said AHC President Jay Hickey. "We appreciate her interest."

As the national trade association representing the horse industry in Washington, D.C., the AHC works daily to represent equine interests and investments. Organized in 1969, the AHC has been promoting and protecting the industry by communicating with Congress, federal agencies, the media and the industry on behalf of all horse related interests each and every day. The AHC is member-supported by individuals and organizations representing virtually every facet of the horse world from owners, breeders, veterinarians, farriers, breed registries, and horsemen's associations to horse shows, race tracks, rodeos, commercial suppliers, and state horse councils. Visit for more information.

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