US horse numbers drop 22% in four years, FDA says

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The latest estimate on the equine population in the US by the country’s Food and Drug Administration indicates there are 3.8 million horses in the country.

The figure is based on information from the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) survey in 2018 and the United States Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) periodic surveys of farm animal population. The previous estimates, in 2014, gave the number as 4.9 million horses, a 22 percent decrease.

A drop in the number of cats in the US was also noted by the FDA, from 74 million in 2014 to 58.4 million in 2018, a 21 percent decrease.

Population estimates are important for helping to determine potential eligibility for drugs to be used for “minor uses.” A “minor use” is the intended use of a drug in a major species (horses, dogs, cats, cattle, pigs, turkeys, and chickens) for a disease or condition that occurs infrequently or in limited geographic areas and in only a “small number” of animals annually. Such “small numbers” are set through rulemaking, but accurate population estimates have an effect upon whether a particular disease or condition qualifies as a minor use. In essence, if the population decreases, the likelihood of a particular disease or condition being considered a minor use increases.

The Minor Use/Minor Species program is part of the FDA’s continuing mission to assure that safe and effective animal drugs are available to meet the health needs of a wide range of diverse species. New animal drugs that are intended for minor uses in major species or for use in minor species (MUMS) qualify for certain incentives.  These include MUMS Designation, Conditional Approval, and waivers from user fees.  MUMS designated drugs are eligible to receive exclusive marketing rights and grants to support product development and approval. Conditional Approval permits quicker access to the marketplace.

“Minor species” are all animals other than humans that are not one of the major species. They include animals such as zoo animals, ornamental fish, parrots, ferrets, and guinea pigs. Some animals of agricultural importance are also minor species. These include sheep, goats, catfish, game birds, and honey bees, among others.

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