Horseowners and equestrian organisations are being invited to have their say on Defra’s draft proposals for the control of a outbreak of African Horse Sickness (AHS) in England.

AHS is a notifiable exotic animal disease that is spread by midge bites. It is endemic in sub-Saharan African and is fatal in 90 per cent of cases.

The last outbreaks of AHS in Europe were in Spain between 1987 and 1990 and were caused by the importation of infected zebras from Africa.

Richard Hopley, of Defra’s equine disease policy team said: “The likelihood of the introduction of AHS virus to the UK via legal trade in horses and other equidae is considered very low.

“However, the outbreak of midge-borne bluetongue disease in farm animals in recent years has demonstrated the potential for insect vector-borne diseases to have unexpected and significant detrimental consequences for the sector and the rural economy.”

He said the government wants to be ready for an outbreak.

AHS has never been found in the UK but an outbreak would bring the horse industry to a standstill, costing many millions of pounds, a report by the horse industry’s AHS working group announced in December.

The proposed regulations provide the Secretary of State with the power to declare a control zone, protection zone and surveillance zone around infected premises.

And they outline the government’s policy regarding culling of affected animals and compensation — which will only be paid for any horse killed which is subsequently shown to be free of the disease.

To comment, go to www.defra.gov.uk/corporate/consult/african-horse-sickness/index.htm

The consultation closes on 11 March.