Rules introduced by the European Union (EU) in an effort to clamp down on the spread of swamp fever from Romania are welcome, but do not go far enough, say industry experts.
The rules have been brought in after horses exported from Romania to Belgium and then the UK tested positive for the disease earlier this year.
“It’s a good decision and the EU has moved quite fast, but it’s not good enough to deal with Romania alone,” warned Keith Meldrum, a consultant for World Horse Welfare and former Defra chief vet.
“We should be dealing with the whole of the EU — especially Italy where the disease is endemic.”
Paul Jepson of The Horse Trust, who heads an industry work group on African Horse Sickness — another deadly equine disease — agreed.
“This is better than a halfway house, but Romania has land borders with about five other countries and will biting insects [that spread swamp fever] recognise borders? It should also apply to Italy,” he said.
“It would be better to say the UK shouldn’t accept horses from Romania — do we really need to anyway?”
A spokesman for Defra told H&H that 74 horses from six consignments were imported from Romania to the UK during 2007-08, but said the government has no figures on the number of horses that reach Britain indirectly — as was the case in the Wiltshire outbreak.
He added: “Defra does look at where horses originate from and tests those who have come from countries that have reported EIA outbreaks, like Romania and Italy.”
Despite this, the horses in Wiltshire were discovered to have the disease by chance, and the industry acknowledges the UK had a lucky escape from the worst-case scenario.
Officials from the UK, Ireland and France are also due to meet on 10 June to discuss a much called-for review of the Tripartite Agreement, which permits free travel of horses between the three countries.
This article was first published in Horse & Hound (20 May, ’10)