CHANGES to the African horse sickness (AHS) code chapter adopted by the World Organisation for Animal Health (OIE) in Paris on 23 May could see the exportation of horses from South Africa greatly expedited in the future.
In the future, because of the latest technology in diagnostic testing for AHS, horses would only have to stand 14 days in the Kenilworth Quarantine Station as opposed to 40 days currently and in the event of an AHS outbreak in the AHS controlled area, South Africa’s AHS status could potentially be regained after 80 days, as opposed to the two years currently.
Racing South Africa’s chief Peter Gibson said: “This is a significant breakthrough for South Africa, whose horse export industry has been hamstrung by past rules which failed to properly address the real risk of exporting the AHS virus.’’
A press release from the Department of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries (DAFF) and Racing South Africa highlighted the salient changes:
– A reduction of pre-export quarantine from a minimum of 40 days continuous quarantine to a minimum of 14 days vector-protected quarantine with agent identification testing (RT PCR) when exporting from an infected country or zone introduces a practical solution for exporting from an infected country.
Horses will have to be quarantined in the Kenilworth Quarantine Station and fly out from Cape Town International Airport. Each of South Africa’s trading partners has different post-arrival conditions. For instance, horses flying into an European Union country would be allowed to go straight to their destinations, while in Singapore, horses would spend a further 14 days in quarantine there.
– The opportunity for countries to apply to the OIE for recognition of a containment zone within a previously AHS free country or zone in the event of a limited controlled outbreak of AHS in the AHS controlled area.
Once the OIE recognises a containment zone, the status of the remainder of the country or zone can be regained 80 days after the last case of AHS. This will greatly expedite the resumption of exports following an outbreak of AHS in the AHS controlled area.
In the event of an outbreak of AHS in the controlled area, South Africa would be in a position to have its AHS-free status resumed 80 days after the last case. This is the best case scenario as Gibson says it would depend on how well the outbreak was managed and how well prepared South African authorities were going into negotiations.
To date, there has not been a recorded outbreak of AHS in the AHS free zone of the Western Cape, however occasional outbreaks have occurred in the AHS controlled area, part of which forms a 50km radius around Cape Town (the AHS surveillance zone) and the AHS protection zone, which extends for a further 100km. There are “sentinels’’ in the AHS surveillance zone, horses who have never been vaccinated against AHS and which form part of South Africa’s AHS surveillance programme. In the past the outbreaks that have occurred in the AHS control area have been well managed and quickly contained, which has helped to build confidence in South Africa’s trading partners.
In terms of the previous OIE AHS Code chapter (2008 version), the AHS-free status of a country or zone could only be regained after a year and South Africa had to reapply to its trading partners for permission to export horses directly from the Kenilworth Quarantine Station. An AHS outbreak in the Western Cape last year, when the last reported case was on 3 May, halted trade, but it was expected that direct exports with some trading partners would resume last month. However, the latest AHS code (2012 version) reintroduced a 24-month suspension earlier this year. The two-year ban is in line with current EU protocols.
A couple of months ago Gibson was quoted as saying that the EU protocols were unlikely to change anytime soon because it would require an Act of Parliament to change their import criteria and, as a senior official in the British Horseracing Authority put it: “Changing EU law is a glacially slow process, not months, usually years but sometimes decades’’.
Good news on that front, he says, is that the EU is a signatory to the latest OIE code chapter and can therefore have no influence of the decisions of other trading partners, as long as they are transparent and comply with the OIE guidelines.
It should be noted that standard movement controls to safeguard South Africa’s AHS status that have been in place since 1997 mean that horses will still not be allowed into the AHS controlled zone in the Western Cape until they have stood for 30 days on the control zone border if there has been an AHS outbreak within a 30km radius of the point of origin. There was an outbreak near Randjesfontein earlier this year, which meant that Justin Snaith’s charge Run For It went back to the Western Cape via Port Elizabeth, and a horse has been reported to have died from AHS at Clairwood last week.
These changes are contingent on countries applying to the OIE for official recognition of their AHS disease status.
– The newly adopted code outlines procedures that need to be followed to complete and submit a dossier with an application for official recognition of AHS disease status. The dossier needs to be submitted for consideration ahead of an ad-hoc working group meeting in January 2013.
If an application is successful, it will form the cornerstone of protocol negotiations between countries as systems of control and monitoring for AHS will have been reviewed and accepted by the OIE. This will greatly expedite protocol development.
While it cannot be guaranteed that South Africa’s application for recognition of its AHS status will be accepted, the code chapter did adopt South Africa’s control measures for AHS because these measures have been present over years. The drafting of the AHS Code Chapter was thanks to the tireless efforts of the South African Veterinary Services and the team that supported them, in particular Professor Alan Guthrie whose expertise in African horse sickness (AHS) and international regulations helped shape the scientific principles, and Dr Beverley Zietsman, Veterinary Liaison Officer for Racing South Africa and Chairman of the Import Export Working Group.
The press release concluded: South Africa will be requesting various trading partners to consider how these OIE code changes can be implemented to expedite the exportation of horses from South Africa.
– The 80th General Assembly meeting of the OIE was attended by more than 600 participants representing OIE member countries as well as international, intergovernmental, regional and national organisations.
The Department of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries congratulated Dr Botlhe Modisane, a veterinary surgeon in DAFF, who was elected into the council of the OIE for three years.
Photo per illustration.