European Union Might Lift Ban on South African Horses

South African news outlets have reported the European Union (EU) could lift a ban it imposed on South African horses in 2004. According to an article in the March 16 online edition of The Citizen (www.citizen.co.za/index/article.aspx?pDesc=14496,1,22), Racing South Africa said the ban, which was enacted after an outbreak of African horse sickness (AHS) was detected in early 2004, could be lifted as early as the end of March. A Feb. 28 AHS outbreak in George (in the southeast region of the Western Cape) is not expected to affect the lifting of the ban, since the current cases are 400 km (almost 250 miles) from the nation's AHS-free zone, where equine exports to the EU would be permissible if the ban is lifted.

Peter Gibson, chief executive of Racing South Africa (a commercial company made up of racing operators, owners, and breeders) told the publication, "If the controlled area remains free of AHS by then, we are expecting the EU to lift the suspension."

African horse sickness is spread by Culicoides midges. Affected animals can show clinical signs ranging from pulmonary distress to heart failure, and the disease is usually fatal in horses. Owners outside the free area and its surrounding surveillance zone are encouraged to vaccinate their horses against the disease. Currently, AHS is contained to its namesake continent where nine serotypes of the disease circulate. (For more information on AHS, visit www.TheHorse.com/emag.aspx?id=5683.)

South Africa has an AHS-control zone that covers the Western Cape, with three sub zones--an AHS-free zone (the metropolitan area of Cape Town, which is at the southwestern tip of the country), a surveillance zone, and a protection zone. Cases in the surveillance zone change the status of the free-zone, so in February 2004, when AHS was detected in Elsenberg, which is in the surveillance zone about 40 km from the free zone, and vaccination was introduced in the surveillance zone to prevent spread of disease, the European Union banned movement of horses from South Africa.

Dr. James Kitching, deputy director of the Western Cape Department of Agriculture's veterinary laboratory, said the ban "has affected all of South Africa since all equine exports are (usually) through the AHS-free zone."

According to the World Organization for Animal Health, "A zone of a country may be considered free from AHS when the disease is notifiable in the whole country and when no clinical, serological (in non-vaccinated animals), or epidemiological evidence of AHS has been found in the zone during the past two years. Also, when no domestic horse or other equine has been vaccinated against the disease during the past 12 months."

If the ban were to be lifted, the free zone would be opened up for exports of horses to EU countries. "Protocols are in place for export only from the free zone," Kitching added, "Horses from other areas must comply with specified requirements regarding vaccinations, there must be no AHS cases within a specified distance and specified time, and the horses must stand in quarantine in the free zone in an insect-free facility."

Authorities sent a report in September 2004 explaining the extent of that year’s outbreak's and the actions taken to contain it, and declaring its conclusion.

In early 2005, the EU Commission's Food and Veterinary Office carried out a veterinary inspection mission to evaluate the measures taken to control AHS in the surveillance zone and to prevent future introduction of the disease. It made specific recommendations for future prevention and control measures.

According to an EU spokesperson, the EU is prepared to consult with member states on resuming the importation of registered horses (those checked as disease-free) from South Africa's AHS-free zone. Its decision is subject to the timely submission of results from the above-mentioned recommendations.

Gibson told The Citizen that since the latest ban was imposed, more than 200 horses have been exported via Mauritius. "But the length of quarantine and cost of delivery cannot sustain South African exports," he said. "As a result of the high cost of delivery through this route, it is estimated that South African exporters lost some R20 million ($3.2 million) in this period."

If the EU ban is lifted, it would reduce the cost of shipping horses to Dubai by at least $12,000 per horse, the story said.

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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