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Equine flu costing Australia $A4m a day

November 2, 2007

The equine flu outbreak in New South Wales and Queensland is costing $A3.94 million a day, according to the Australian Bureau of Agricultural and Resource Economics.

The figure was put on the current direct daily costs of the outbreak in terms of economic loss.

It is unclear whether these direct costs include the $A36 million the eradication campaign has cost to date. The Equestrian Federation of Australia has voiced concern over precisely who will end up paying.

Queensland Primary Industries Minister Tim Mulherin says equine influenza can still be contained and eradicated.

"And that has to continue to be our aim or the annual costs to industry would be enormous," he said.

Experts, he said, were increasingly confident that the current strategy would result in the disease burning itself out.

"Their optimism is inspired by the infection still being restricted within the South East Queensland red zone, as well as better availability of vaccine which will allow us to more aggressively contain the infection within the existing areas.

"I know there are those who say the horse standstill is too difficult for many people and we should just stand back and let horse flu run its course. But if we let that happen, horse owners could face the recurrent costs of two or three injections per year."

Horsetalk has calculated the annual cost of flu jabs in Australia for 80% of the domestic horse population at $A200 million.

Primary Industries chief Veterinary officer Ron Glanville said the department had to look at the "big picture".

"The decision to impose movement restrictions was not taken lightly," Dr Glanville said.

"After more than eight weeks, horse flu in Queensland is still restricted to the south-east corner of the state. This is directly attributable to the tight horse movement restrictions, which help prevent any further spread."

Some movement restrictions may be relaxed in December, depending upon the success of the vaccination programme. "For the time being it is critical that people continue complying with the movement restrictions.

"The alternative is the cost and inconvenience of an annual vaccination programme costing hundreds of dollars per horse, which is what horse owners in other countries go through."

Equestrian Federation of Australia chief executive Franz Venhaus says news that the eradication campaign is working is welcomed, but he question why more information is not released.

"The equine influenza crisis is far from over but there are some encouraging signs that the virus can be beaten if we hold our nerve, 'do the right thing' in terms of biosecurity and if vaccination progresses as planned in a targeted way.

"I have seen graphs that confirm this.

"Would it not be great if the 'good news' was published widely, even if projections have to be qualified with statements like 'barring major outbreaks'?

"There is a lot of information available for the privileged few at state and federal level. Why not make it available in edited form to the public?

"And what about agreeing on a consistent approach to the same issues across states?"

The Equestrian Federation has also voiced its concern about who precisely will pay for eradication efforts.

The eradication campaign is approaching $A36 million, an initial allocation based on 1% of the estimated gross value of production of the entire horse industry ($3.6 billion).

"Even worse news is that 'industry' is supposed to bear 80% of this," Mr Venhaus said. "If the money is later 'collected' and is based on the number of horses in the industry, the sport and leisure (non-racing) sector will (again) bear the brunt of this because the number of horses is between three- and four-times that of the racing industry."

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