April 17, 2008

The suspension of horse imports from Australia has been lifted, but the cheaper sea-freight option is unlikely to be available for some months.

Biosecurity New Zealand is issuing a new Import Health Standard for horses today, but the complicating factor is that a review of the requirements for equine holding facilities in New Zealand has yet to be completed.


Key points

• Horses should be coming by air from Australia by mid-May.

• Air freight is likely to cost at least $10,000, including quarantine.

• Inability to access New Zealand quarantine facilities in the short to medium-term means cheaper sea-freight is not yet an option.

• A farm has been leased by New Zealand Bloodstock and IRT in the expectation it can be cleared for use as a transitional facility, in effect tripling local capacity.


The import health standard for horses contains no surprises:

The suspension has been in place since August last year, when the outbreak of equine influenza in New South Wales and Queensland occurred.

Before the outbreak in Australia, bringing horses across the Tasman was comparatively straightforward, with two blood tests required and treatment for internal and external parasites within 48 hours of departure.

The new requirements will add signficantly to the cost, with air-freighted horses likely to cost at least $10,000, including quarantine.

New Zealand Bloodstock's air freight manager Greg Northcott said his firm had leased a property jointly with fellow air freight operator IRT with the expectation it could be used as a transitional facility.

It was about 5km from the existing Karaka quarantine facility operated by IRT.

He confirmed that the biosecurity review of standards for such transitional facilities had yet to be completed but he was hopeful a dispensation could be obtain from authorities in the meantime.

"We are hoping we will get approval to get under way," he says. "We have stressed the importance of clearing the backlog."

All going well, he expected the first horses could be flying in from Australia by mid-May.

The existing Karaka facility could hold about 18 horses. The leased property could house 40 or more horses, provided MAF Biosecurity agreed.

He did not believe the new Import Health Standard placed any limits on numbers - although he stressed he had only received the formal documentation 10 minutes before Horsetalk's call and had yet to check.

Northcott said suitable facilities had been found for the three weeks of pre-export isolation required in Australia, but some details were still being worked through with Australia's quarantine service.

He confirmed the air-freight import cost would be at least $10,000, but he had yet to read the full Import Health Standard to see if there were any unexpected additions that might add to the cost.

He confirmed that other horse importers would be allowed access to the transitional facilities once air-freight back-logs had been cleared. All going well, that could be some time in August.

However, there were complicating issues, with each intake having to come from the same location, meaning the numbers would have to be high enough to justify such intakes.

Northcott said he was pleased with today's announcement, saying at times the company had felt it was taking one step forward and three back in working to get imports under way.

Sea Horse Sea Freight's Allison Lozell said her firm had little option but to sit tight as it did not have access to suitable transitional facilities at this stage.

She was of the understanding that the facilities operated by the air-freight operators would not be available until those companies had cleared their own backlogs.

What that will cost is unknown.

Her advice to those who did not want to pay the cost of air freight was to sit tight and agist the animals until later this year, when she was hopeful that import requirements would be eased further.

Before the lockdown, Sea Horse Sea Freight was charging $2600 for importing horses out of Sydney, Adelaide and Melbourne, with Brisbane being a little dearer.

Horsetalk understands that Australia cannot be formally considered free of equine influenza until a year after the last known case. The last reported case was in Queensland on Christmas Day. It was possible, however, that New Zealand might ease restrictions before then.

Import Standards Group Manager, Clive Gower Collins, in announcing the Import Health Standard today, said the new import requirements were in accordance with agreements between Australia, and New Zealand.

"It has taken time to develop new import conditions because we needed to take every precaution to prevent the disease being introduced here.

"This included discussions with the Australian government over pre-export quarantine and testing requirements and consultation with the New Zealand Equine Health Association and industry over the practicality of the new import conditions.

"The outbreak in Australia has reinforced the importance of strict biosecurity requirements at the border. The new import requirements will ensure that horse imports do not present a biosecurity risk, and we are pleased that with its release, horses can now return home."