Disease risk warning follows use of uncertified equine semen

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Imported equine semen that does not have an accompanying health certificate is being used on British horses, causing concerns about infectious diseases such as CEM and EVA.

Thousands of shipments of equine germinal product (semen, ova and embryos) are imported into the UK every year.  It is a legal requirement for all imported equine semen to be accompanied to the place of destination (usually to the side of the mare) by an original, valid health certificate (ITAHC), issued in the country of origin.

Recently, consignments of equine semen have been imported without the appropriate health certificates, which means that there is no guarantee that the semen is free from the stated diseases or even that it is from the chosen stallion, the British Equine Veterinary Association (BEVA) said. It said that well-known importing agents had advised mare owners that these certificates were unnecessary, and these businesses have also openly criticised vets who refuse to inseminate mares with uncertified imported semen.

BEVA said such practice not only jeopardises the current high health status of the UK horse population but also risks the professional status of the vets involved.

The use of uncertified semen leads to the real risk of a recipient mare becoming infected with diseases such as CEM or EVA, the potentially rapid spread of disease in breeding stock and eventual restrictions being placed on breeding premises. Recent outbreaks of Equine Infectious Anaemia (EIA) in Europe have exacerbated such health threats to the UK herd.

The personal and professional reputation of any vet involved with using uncertified semen is also in danger, with the Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons (RCVS) likely to take a stringent line with any vets who disregard animal health laws and the high health status of British horses.

Malcolm Morley, Partner at Stable Close Equine Practice was recently placed in a difficult position with a client when semen arrived without the requisite documentation. Following a discussion between the semen importer and his client, where the client was told that Morley was being pedantic and that the client should find someone else to inseminate the mare.

Another BEVA member who wishes to remain anonymous, has voiced the concerns of numerous equine stud vets. She said: “I have one very big client I think I may be about to lose because of my refusal to inseminate his mare without papers … (the importing stud) did not feel it worth a three-hour drive to get papers done. The semen importer has made it clear to my client that (they believe) I am just being awkward.”

Mark Bowen Senior Vice president of BEVA said: “Import agencies have placed additional pressure on the vets to inseminate mares without the necessary paperwork. Not only is this action illegal but places recipient mares under a direct threat from a notifiable and incurable disease. This seems particularly cavalier given the recent outbreaks of EIA across Europe.”

Tullis Matson, Founder and Managing Director of Stallion AI Services said: “If the UK wants to retain its high health status and continue to utilise the international market it needs the breeding industry and the veterinary profession to use the disease controls that are currently place until such a time as we can implement more efficient system. No-one should be inseminating mares with imported semen that isn’t accompanied by the original health certificate.”

BEVA is supporting members with the following protective measures:

  • Notifying owners that they must tell the agent that they will not accept semen without a valid health certificate, in order to protect the health of their own horses.
  • Reassuring all vets performing stud duties that they are right to refuse to inseminate mares with semen that isn’t accompanied by a valid health certificate, in order to protect their professional status and safeguard the health status of the UK herd.
  • Making sure owners and vets are fully aware that if they receive imported semen that isn’t accompanied by a valid health certificate they must report it immediately to their local animal health office and arrange for the semen to be destroyed.
  • Reminding agents of the law and to make them aware that all BEVA members have been advised to report any indiscretions to their local animal health office.

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