An interim testing regime has been put in place that will allow the resumption of New Zealand horse exports to Australia, following a positive test in a North Island-based mare for one of the two protozoan species known to cause equine piroplasmosis.
The new testing protocols will incur an extra cost, as the additional testing requires specialist expertise. The required work will be subcontracted to an Australian laboratory with these skills.
The new regime, resulting from talks between agriculture officials on both sides of the Tasman, was agreed amid growing optimism that the positive test for Theileria equi returned by the imported mare will prove to be an isolated case.
The horse was imported to New Zealand by Cambridge Stud for breeding purposes in February last year.
At the time of import, the horse met all of New Zealand’s requirements including testing negative for T. equi within the required 21 days before shipment.
She had also undergone full quarantine in Britain before export and in New Zealand on arrival.
The mare subsequently returned a suspected positive test for T. equi as part of standard export certification before onward shipment to Australia.
Further blood tests carried out by the Ministry for Primary Industries confirmed the horse was positive, although she had displayed no signs of illness in her time here.
Ministry scientists have been testing other horses at Cambridge Stud, whose co-operation and record-keeping to enable this has been described as outstanding.
This testing is to provide confidence that the operation is free of the organism, and that there has been no transmission of it within the farm.
All adult horses that were either paddock mates of the infected horse or had grazed the same pasture as the animal have tested negative for T. equi. Testing is ongoing on a wider group of adult animals associated with the stud.
T. equi is primarily spread from horse to horse by ticks. It is not infectious directly between horses, and the ticks that are known to transmit the disease are not a species present in New Zealand.
Agreed trade conditions for several countries that import New Zealand horses require veterinary certification stating that New Zealand is completely free of the disease in order to accept horses from here.
As statements of country freedom cannot currently be given, alternate measures now need to be agreed until such time New Zealand can regain this status.
This gave rise to the talks between the Ministry for Primary Industries and Australian authorities that led to the new testing regime.
Airfreight companies have indicated that they are about to recommence, once additional testing requirements have been met.
Talks are also under way with other importing countries, and to date, good progress has been reported.
The New Zealand Thoroughbred Breeders Association said it wanted to acknowledge the efforts of Cambridge Stud, the Ministry for Primary Industries and the New Zealand Equine Health Association, in particular chairman Dr Ivan Bridge, in dealing with the response.