The search has started to find a replacement for the Animal Health Trust’s disease surveillance and support services. H&H seeks the opinions of the industry as calls are made for all horse owners to contribute towards a service that will help keep our horses safe from a major infectious disease outbreak...
Following the loss of the Animal Health Trust (AHT) in July, whose work included equine disease surveillance for the UK’s entire horse population, steps are being taken to ensure this important service is available to protect the UK herd in future.
Director of epidemiology and disease surveillance, Richard Newton, and administrator Maire O’Brien were transferred to the British Horseracing Authority’s (BHA) payroll on behalf of the racing industry, to continue providing disease surveillance services. This was funded by the Horserace Betting Levy Board, owners and the Thoroughbred Breeders’ Association.
The BHA formed an industry-wide stakeholder group, which has opened a tender process for a long-term solution for both the racing and wider equestrian industry. Applications close on 5 October.
The short-term fix and move to find a more permanent solution have been welcomed by the equestrian industry. While funding from the above will continue, alongside money from the Racing Foundation, key figures in the wider equine world have stressed that supporting disease surveillance is the responsibility of all horse owners.
British Equine Veterinary Association chief executive and British Horse Council (BHC) chairman David Mountford told H&H it is important for the health and welfare of the national herd that there is a “good, robust system” for monitoring infectious diseases.
“The thoroughbred industry has stepped up to the mark by ensuring the short-term continuity of disease surveillance services,” he said.
“It is important that everyone in the horse world, not just the thoroughbred industry, recognises the value of good disease surveillance and biosecurity as we would hope all quarters of the equine world would contribute to its future success.”
World Horse Welfare chief executive Roly Owers told H&H the tendering process “is a huge relief, as was the BHA stepping into the breach”.
“The demise of the AHT and its vital equine disease support work was nothing short of a tragedy and a huge threat to the health of the UK equine population,” said Mr Owers.
“It could not have come at a worse time and is certainly ironic given the current global focus on biosecurity.”
He added the charity hopes the process is a step towards securing a “long-term, effective and economically viable disease surveillance service that will be accessible to all”.
Jeanette Allen, chief executive of the Horse Trust and BHC director, told H&H “everyone has a part to play”.
“Where we need to get to is an independent entity funded by the whole sector. If you own a horse, you should be chipping in,” she said.
She explained while equine flu and racing are important, they are part of a much bigger picture, with endemic and exotic diseases that need monitoring for the benefit of the entire herd.
“[Those diseases] won’t care whether it is a racehorse, a show horse or a hacking pony. The earlier we can have a system that flags these diseases to epidemiologists, the faster we can react to contain them,” she said.
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