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Horse Council attacks lack of unity over equine flu

October 4, 2007

Disagreements between states, politicians and racing interests over the equine flu outbreak are making eradication efforts harder, the Australian Horse Industry Council says.

"This is a challenging assignment and getting harder as state argues against state, minister against minister and racing versus everyone else," the council said in a release, which accused politicians of favouring racing interests.

"We are trying to maintain unity as we face the biggest challenge that the horse industry has ever faced in Australia. Unless we have 100% support and compliance we are not going to control and eradicate equine flu.

"Despite the frequent comments to the contrary, the prospects of eradicating equine are still very good. South Africa and India have eradicated EI in recent years.

"This is a national emergency and the overall strategy is to stop uninfected areas becoming infected prior to eventual eradication."

The council said disease control efforts were a compromise between getting things back to normal as soon as possible while removing all risk that the disease will spread further.

It said it understood the extreme anger generated among horse owners as vaccines are allocated by "political decisions to protect racehorses before non-racing horses".

"We have conveyed this sense of frustration to NSW [DPI] Minister Ian Macdonald. He and his staff have received over 1000 emails and many phone calls expressing opposition to what is seen as favouritism for the racing sector.

"Despite this, the NSW Government still gives support in decision making and financial support to the racing sector.

"The reality is that racing has a much greater political and media pull than other horse interests. The average punter and voter have more interest in racing than in what the recreational horse riders do with their horses.

"The council has to be even-handed about horse industry problems. Indeed we represent thoroughbred interests, too. The disruption of the racing sector has a great economic impact. The vaccination of racehorses has little to do with the health of the horses.

"It is being done to protect racing. Yes, it is all about money. The horse industry is a very big employer and generates economic benefit. Therefore if we wish to limit the economic impact of equine flu, racing has to have a priority."

But if the thoroughbred industry is to be protected, the disease must be controlled in the general horse population. The ongoing containment and control of equine flu depends on disease control in non-racing horses, which represent at least 80% of the total population.

"We strongly support the NSW and Qld decisions to make vaccination of buffer zones the highest priority. The horses in the buffer zones are overwhelmingly non-racing horses.

"The thoroughbred racing and breeding interests have enjoyed advantages such as earlier release from movement restrictions, earlier vaccination and potentially earlier release from quarantine control. The council continues to argue for these freedoms to be granted to the wider population.

"We do not see why racehorses are allowed to travel up to 5km daily in amber zones to a racetrack when other horses are not allowed to move 500 metres to a different paddock. We also hear of discrepancies between controls being implemented differently in different states. Since early in the outbreak NSW horses have been allowed to move to a veterinary hospital for welfare reasons. In Queensland these movements have been restricted."



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