Horse council argues against EI vaccination

September 20, 2008

The Australia Horse Industry Council (AHIC) says it does not support ongoing vaccination against equine flu - a position it will take into next week's summit to discuss strategies to manage the risk of future outbreaks.

Its position will pit it against racing interests which have expressed a desire for an ongoing vaccination programme.

"To continue to vaccinate against EI, when it currently does not exist in Australia, can compromise future efforts to eradicate the disease, should it enter Australia," said AHIC president Dr Barry Smyth.

He said the AHIC did not support ongoing vaccination against EI for "certain sectors of the horse industry".

"Ongoing vaccination of horses in Australia at this time will do nothing to assist with future eradication efforts, should another outbreak occur.

"The vaccination model is only appropriate in countries where EI is endemic. The model is not appropriate in Australia where EI does not exist."

Dr Smyth also noted that "it is ill-conceived that ongoing vaccination will provide an effective risk management strategy for industry".

"It is not a sensible option - as it will not achieve the objectives that its proponents say it will - which is to ensure business continuity for those vaccinated sectors of the horse industry. Ongoing vaccination will not guarantee this," he said.

"It is our view that the first line of defence in preventing another EI outbreak is to build and maintain a robust and effective quarantine service.

"EI is an exotic disease. It does not currently exist in Australia. The most effective and practical approach to protect our industry is to prevent EI from entering Australia in the first place."

Dr Smyth said Australia's current EI-free status delivered huge benefits to industry. "Costs of managing the disease are virtually eliminated and we do not endure the disruptions and complications that result from living with EI," he said.

"The AHIC approach is to support [the quarantine service) in its efforts to achieve the very best quarantine service so that Australia remains free of EI and continues to enjoy the benefits of its 'EI free' status."

The horse industry and government will convene in Sydney on September 25 to discuss how best to manage the risk of a possible future EI outbreak in Australia.

"It is our top priority to ensure that appropriate steps are taken to reduce the risk of another EI outbreak. The industry suffered enormous loss and disruption in 2007. The council is committed to ensuring that the very best risk management framework is adopted to prevent such a crisis occurring in future."

Dr Smyth said the the Australian government had taken positive steps to improve the quarantine service since the EI outbreak. "This," he said, "has been the single most important step in protecting our industry against a future emergency disease outbreak.

He urged horse owners to contact New South Wales agriculture minister Ian McDonald to express their opposition to vaccination. [Ian McDonald, Level 33 Governor Macquarie Tower, 1 Farrer Place, Sydney NSW 2000; or macdonald.office@macdonald.minister.nsw.gov.au]

Opponents to ongoing vaccination include the Australian Veterinary Association (AVA).