Vets and industry figures are outraged at government proposals to “denotify” 2 contagious equine diseases.

Contagious equine metritis (CEM) and equine viral arteritis (EVA) — both of which are spread through breeding — are currently on the list of notifiable diseases. This means any case must be reported to Defra so co-ordinated action can be taken to stop it spreading.

EVA can cause a high rate of abortion, while CEM causes a uterine infection in mares and can lead to infertility.

But as part of the Government’s “red tape challenge” to “save businesses time and money in needless regulation”, Defra is proposing removing that status.

Roly Owers of World Horse Welfare and the Equine Sector Council for Health and Welfare told H&H this would be a “retrogade step” for managing disease.

“We understand the need to reduce the costs, but these proposals go beyond this,” he said. “Only the Government can enforce movement restrictions [bans on livestock transportation], and without them it is nigh on impossible to irradicate disease.

“This could have huge implications on the equine industry.”

The Government will be “scrapping or amending” more than 3,000 regulations, “saving businesses well over £850million every year”.

A Defra spokesman said it proposes to remove CEM and EVA from the list of UK notifiable diseases “because they are low-impact diseases which are not notifiable in the EU”.

“CEM and EVA are preventable diseases that can be controlled through good hygiene practices as well as vaccines [for EVA] and veterinary treatment [for CEM],” she added.

“Removing the notifiable status will mean government no longer having to be involved in individual disease investigations and control measures, for which effective industry led Codes of Practice are already in place.”

Richard Newton from the Animal Health Trust disagreed with this reasoning.

“The countries we deal with take the diseases very seriously and the inherent value in racing and sport horses is the knowledge that they are free from disease,” he said.

“The equestrian industry is a multi-million pound export industry and we fear Defra is being short-sighted. It needs to realise the potential trade impact if notifable status is taken away.”

Defra told H&H “no final decision will be taken on these proposals without stakeholder consultation”. Mr Owers said the sector had written to Defra.

This article was first published in Horse & Hound magazine (20 March 2014)