March 21, 2008

The cost of eradicating equine influenza in Australia has been put at $A1250 per infected horse. The average cost per infected property has been put at $A10,000.

The figures were arrived at by the Australian Horse Industry Council (AHIC), by dividing the estimated 80,000 known infected horses and 10,000 infected properties by the $A100 million that the emergency eradication effort has costs.

The council included the figures in a document discussing a horse disease levy in Australia.

It said without a formal levy being put in place, the horse industry may not in future be able to rely on such levels of government assistance to counteract any disease incursions and meet its obligations to taxpayers in paying for eradication efforts.

It said the successful 29-week eradication effort for EI was a significant achievement, in which authorities worked to contain the disease in a 270,000 square kilometre area. Some 160,000 horses were vaccinated in the campaign.

The $A100 million cost in fighting the disease did not include estimated losses incurred by those in the horse industry, estimated in the hundreds of millions. Commonwealth and state government assistance programmes have provided about $A250 million.

The AHIC said it has been concerned for many years about the possible effects of an EI incursion.

"There have been moves towards the horse industry joining in the Emergency Animal Disease Response Agreement (EADRA) going back more than 10 years," it said.

Being part of EADRA ensures mobilisation of government resources to help an industry deal with an exotic disease emergency.

"Without that vital government involvement, the horse industry would not have been able to mount any effective response on its own.

"Furthermore, enactment of emergency legislation enables emergency supplies of vaccine to be sourced when needed."

To become a signatory to EADRA involves the horse industry having in place a levy mechanism to ensure any industry liability towards the cost of an emergency response can be collected and repaid to the taxpayer who covers the costs up front.

Inability to meet financial liabilities during an emergency response would mean a less certain and less effective outcome for both industry and governments.

There is no easy answer to what might be an appropriate levy for the horse industry, the council said.

Many suggestions have been made over the past 10 years, but most do not meet the necessary guidelines for an emergency disease levy.

In 2006, after a national information and consultation programme, the Australian horse industry supported a levy on horses to be collected at the time of first registration after the emergency had been declared over. The council sent thousands of pieces of information to the national horse industry, wrote to more than 100 organisations that record or register horses, and advertised in the national mainstream media and horse-specific media.

From all those messages, only 18 replies were received and of those only three raised any concerns.

In November 2006 the agriculture department started the process to have the appropriate legislation put into federal parliament. Last year the introduction of EI and a federal election further delayed the introduction of the Horse Disease Levy Bills until now.

"It seems that under current circumstances in the aftermath of the EI emergency the horse industry has had second thoughts about the 2006 consultation process," the council says.

"The suggestion for the levy at the time of registration after the emergency now seems to be unacceptable to many."

Parliamentary debate on the proposed legislation has been delayed to allow time for further consultation between government and industry.

"The horse industry will need to consolidate its efforts and come up with a working solution to ensure that these bills go through for the benefit of the national horse industry.

"Without this assistance the horse industry will be unable to counteract any disease incursion, and many of those diseases could be much worse that EI."

The council is seeking any input on a way forward to finalise a levy mechanism for the horse industry to become a signatory to EADRA. "AHIC welcomes any constructive input about revision of the wording of the Bills from organisations and individuals."