Participants in the non-racing horse industry in Australia have confirmed their full commitment to the eradication of the disease despite the fact that this will mean ongoing cancellation of horse events and restricted horse movement.
"Non-racing sector horse organisations are firmly against any moves that might lead to EI becoming endemic in Australia," said Dr Barry Smyth, president of the Australian Horse Industry Council.
"Although the incidents of EI are decreasing and the containment strategy seems to be working, we believe it is far too early to relax restrictions on horse movements including vaccinated horses - or on holding horse events and gatherings."
The majority of the Australian horse industry, more than 80%, is comprised of horse owners, riders, breeders and service providers that are involved in business and recreational activities other than horse racing, and the EI outbreak is having a huge economic impact on this sector of the industry.
Dr Smyth held meetings over the last week with representatives from peak horse industry bodies such as pony clubs, agricultural shows, adult riders and equestrian clubs and the message from these organisations is clear and consistent.
"We are prepared to make sacrifices now for the long term benefit of the industry," said Dr Smyth. "Based on the experience of other countries, such as Argentina, where EI is endemic we firmly believe that preventative action now is better than living with the costs and inconvenience of having EI in Australia permanently."
This commitment will result in most non-racing horse activities and gatherings being cancelled until 2008 to minimise the risk of any spread of Equine Influenza. This is voluntary in non-infected jurisdictions and is done at considerable cost to non-racing sectors.
"We hope that preventative measures taken now will allow us to resume normal activities in the first half of 2008 with added biosecurity measures in place," said Dr Smyth.
"It is important that all horse owners and riders keep their focus on the future and remember that vaccination has not changed the requirement of permits for movements of horses. The movement of horses depends solely on the zone system. Horses in the red and amber zones cannot be moved off their property without a permit, even after being vaccinated.
"Vaccination is a process of two separate shots and then it needs time to work. Allowing at least one week, but preferably two, after the second shot is recommended before moving horses based in the purple zone.
"EI is starting to be controlled but constant vigilance is required and we cannot let our guard down yet."
The Australian Horse Industry Council (AHIC) is a national body representing the Australian horse industry. It is a not-for-profit organisation designed to represent the interests of horses and horse owners across all sectors of the industry.