CEM Exemptions Rescinded for Spanish Purebred Horses

Officials from the USDA's National Center for Import/Export recently rescinded a contagious equine metritis (CEM) exemption once given to Spanish purebred horses. The exemption allowed these horses to pass through the import center with an abbreviated form of CEM testing, an allowance that was revoked due to repeat violations of U.S. equine import requirements.

Contagious equine metritis is a highly contagious venereal disease that often causes no clinical signs in mares or stallions. It is caused by the bacterium Taylorella equigenitalis. The stallion acts as a carrier of CEM, which is passed along to mares and can affect fertility. Rigorous treatment is required to rid horses of the bacterium.

Under current regulations, the USDA's Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) requires that stallions and mares over the age of 731 days coming into the United States from CEM-affected regions for permanent import (they aren't in the U.S. temporarily for competition or breeding) go through routine tests for specified diseases, a three-day quarantine, and remain under observation for signs of illness. Then they are transported to an approved CEM quarantine facility, where they undergo additional testing and observation for up to 30 days.

The exemption had applied to Spanish purebred horses (any horse certified by the Spanish government as such), typically Andalusians. It had been negotiated with Spain that horses with paperwork that certified they had not been bred or kept on a premise that is exclusively a breeding premise would be exempt from post-import CEM quarantine and testing (however, prior to entry, three negative swabs for CEM were required). The regulation was published Aug. 1, 2000, said Freeda E. Isaac, DVM, staff veterinarian at the National Center for Import/Export. "You would not have to do a full CEM (inspection and quarantine) after entry for stallions and mares coming from Spain."

The breach in compliance began with an incident in 2001. "There was (an exempted) mare that arrived with a foal at her side," said Isaac. "We discussed this with the Spanish official, and we worked out that we would keep monitoring (the situation)." Another mare arriving in 2002 foaled several months after admittance to the U.S. with certification that she had not been bred or kept on a breeding premise.

"It obviously had been a problem, and we did take immediate action and rescinded the exemption," said Isaac. She said that the USDA is continually monitoring for breaches of CEM testing regulations.

According to Isaac, there are no other exemptions, except those for racing Thoroughbreds from the United Kingdom, France, Ireland, Italy, and Germany, which are not affected by the action for the Spanish purebred horses. "That's a very specific part of the CFR (Code of Federal Regulations)," she explained. Racing Thoroughbreds from these countries can be imported for competition purposes and permanent quarantine, as long as they have three negative cultures for CEM in the country of origin.

About the Author

Stephanie L. Church, Editor-in-Chief

Stephanie L. Church, Editor-in-Chief, received a B.A. in Journalism and Equestrian Studies from Averett College in Danville, Virginia. A Pony Club and 4-H graduate, her background is in eventing, and she is schooling her recently retired Thoroughbred racehorse, Happy, toward a career in that discipline. She also enjoys traveling, photography, cycling, and cooking in her free time.

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