Concerns over deadly African Horse Sickness are behind the American Horse Council’s opposition to Saudi Arabia’s request to ease quarantine restrictions on horses from its shores.
Horses from Saudi Arabia, and all countries affected with African Horse Sickness (AHS), must be quarantined for sixty days before entering the United States, while horses from countries without the disease may be admitted with a shorter quarantine period.
The extended period is required to ensure horses from AHS countries are not infected with the disease, which has a long incubation period.
AHS is a highly contagious and deadly disease that affects horses, donkeys, and mules and has a mortality rate of up to 95 percent in naive horse populations like that in the US.
The US Department of Agriculture (USDA), in response to a 2009 request by Saudi Arabia to be recognized as free of AHS, studied the status of the disease in that country.
The horse council said the USDA’s evaluation used information provided by Saudi Arabia and other sources.
Based on its evaluation, the USDA concluded that the disease was not known to be present in Saudi Arabia and that the likelihood of introducing it into the US through imports of horses from that country was low.
But it also concluded that “the biological and economic consequences of an AHS outbreak in the United States could be high”.
In June, the department proposed to change the federal import rules to remove Saudi Arabia from the list of countries affected by the disease and allow horses to be imported with a much shorter quarantine period.
In lengthy comments filed with the department on August 11, the horse council opposed removing Saudi Arabia from the list of AHS-affected nations. It maintained that the potential benefits were not sufficient to offset the potential adverse consequences, which included the high mortality rate of up to 95 percent; the costs of caring for or euthanizing and disposing of sick horses; the imposition of interstate and international controls and travel restrictions on equine movements, which is so important to the industry that would accompany an outbreak; and the resultant economic affects and lost revenue to the industry in breeding, racing, showing and exhibiting horses.
The counil noted that most of America’s trading partners, and particularly the World Organization for Animal Health (OIE), did not recognize Saudi Arabia as free of the disease.
The council also questioned whether the USDA or the industry itself would have the resources to respond to an AHS outbreak.
The council view is that the USDA evaluation did not make a sufficient case to change the rules and put US horses and the $US102 billion American horse industry at risk of the disease.