August 26, 2008

The anniversary of Australia's equine influenza outbreak passed this week, with Australians enjoying free horse movements but imports to New Zealand still under strict quarantine requirements.

New Zealand moves to free up imports from Australia still appears some time off, with five weeks of quarantine required.

New South Wales Primary Industries Minister Ian Macdonald described the outbreak as the horse industry's darkest hour, "with the state in lockdown and the disease spreading rapidly".

"This was the largest exotic disease response ever witnessed in Australia.

"During the outbreak we learnt how highly contagious equine influenza is, how humans can inadvertently spread it, and the importance of working with industry and all horse owners to get rid of the disease.

"Our racing, breeding and many other horse sectors like equestrian, rodeo and polocrosse are back in business and are looking forward to a bright future and a spring that is memorable for the right reasons.

"The NSW Government's successful eradication programme means that these industries do not need to live with EI."

At its peak, 47,000 horses on 5943 NSW properties were infected. More than 109,000 doses of a genetically modified vaccine were given to over 50,000 horses.

The NSW Government spent more than $50 million eradicating the disease and enlisted an additional workforce of about 2000 people.

"Virologists and laboratory staff at NSW DPI's Elizabeth Macarthur Agricultural Institute conducted more than 132,000 sample tests - 3000 a day in the busiest period," Mr Macdonald said.

"While these are very, very impressive figures, the successful eradication could not have happened without the support and sacrifice of the 50,000 people who are part of our horse industries."

The coming months looked encouraging for the horse industry, he said.

"Horses and horse events will return to country shows where they were cancelled last year."

The outbreak in Australia began on August 24.