April 29, 2008

The last remaining hurdle to the resumption of horse imports from Australia is expected to be cleared in a week.

Imports from Australia were banned in the wake of an equine influenza outbreak in New South Wales and Queensland, which began in August.

Biosecurity New Zealand released a new Import Health Standard for horses in mid-April, which laid down the health and testing requirements for equines, as well as the requirement for three weeks of quarantine in Australia, followed by two weeks on arrival in New Zealand.

While the new import standard supposedly lifted the restrictions on imports, there remained an impediment in the form of a review, already launched, into the standard required for quarantine facilities.

MAF spokeswoman Helen Keyes confirmed to Horsetalk today that submissions are being reviewed at the moment.

"The standard should be finalised in the next week or so," she said.

Provided the standard contains no major surprises requiring major redevelopment of existing facilities, its release should clear the way for the first imports from Australia this month.

New Zealand Bloodstock's air freight manager Greg Northcott said everything appeared to remain on track for the first horses to come in from Australia in mid-May.

A total of about 60 horses were already in pre-export quarantine in Sydney and Melbourne, meeting the three-week requirement.

He described the horses as a mix of everything, with priorirty being given to those stranded in Australia in the first few weeks of the outbreak.

"We've tried to look after them first."

He said he did not expect any surprises in the new standards for quarantine facilities.

Discussions, he said, have been ongoing and they already have been given a heads-up on any major items, such as concrete wash-down pads for trucks, meaning there should not be any delays once the new standard is out.

Air freight will be the only immediate option on resumption of Australian imports, with sea-freight not likely until quarantine standards are relaxed, or the sizeable backlog with air freighters is cleared.

The existing quarantine facility at Karaka, run by air freight operator IRT, will be complemented by an even bigger facility, to be jointly run by IRT and NZ Bloodstock, about 5km away.

The two facilities will help clear the sizeable back-log.

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.