End to Aussie horse quarantine only weeks away

November 6, 2008

The five weeks of quarantine required for horses being imported from Australia could be lifted as soon as early next year, biosecurity officials told Horsetalk today.

Imports from Australia were banned for nine months after an outbreak of equine influenza which began across the Tasman in August last year.

Imports resumed in mid-May this year, but under tough new requirements laid out in a new import health standard, required three weeks of quarantine in Australia and two weeks in New Zealand.

However, with only airfreight services having suitable quarantine facilities available, owners wanting to import horses faced bills of around $10,000 - about half of which comprised quarantine costs.

Before the flu outbreak, horse owners were paying around $2500 for sea freight.

MAF Biosecurity New Zealand (MAFBNZ) spokeswoman Helen Keyes confirmed plans were afoot to resume trade under conditions recognising Australia's status as free from equine flu.

She said Biosecurity New Zealand intended to consult on a new import health standard in advance of the 12-month anniversary of Australia's last confirmed case (Christmas Day).

"Taking into account the formal public consultation period on the draft import health standard, this could allow new import conditions to be used as soon as early next year," she said.

"Although import conditions will only be finalised after review of public submissions, requirements for importation of horses from Australia will be very similar to those in place prior to the EI outbreak, which did not include pre- or post-arrival quarantine restrictions for horses."

Under World Organisation for Animal Health (OIE) guidelines, Australia cannot formally be considered free of equine flu until 12 months after the last case. However, the country declared the disease beaten on June 30.

It took 125 days to eradicate the disease at a direct cost of more than $A100 million. The cost of support for horse industry workers has pushed the total cost to well over $A300m.

New Zealand racing authorities have been talking to Biosecurity New Zealand about the lifting of quarantine requirements, which have effectively ruled out horses crossing the Tasman to compete here.

The department confirmed with New Zealand Thoroughbred Racing (NZTR) that it was fully aware of deadlines facing the connections of overseas horses potentially travelling to New Zealand's Wellington Cup Carnival in January and the Auckland Cup Carnival in March.

"The timing is very tight following the earliest date for Australia's anticipated achievement of equine influenza free-status in accordance with World Organisation for Animal Health requirements," NZTR said this week.

MAFBNZ, it said, had indicated that every effort would be made to expedite an import health standard recognising Australia's anticipated formal freedom from flu from Christmas.

However, no guarantee can be provided.