'Bleak Day for Breeding' in Australia

For the embattled, almost crippled breeding industry in New South Wales, the major Thoroughbred nursery in Australia, the news seems to worsen every day. Following the Sept. 4 confirmation that a broodmare in the Hunter Valley had contracted the dreaded equine influenza, a teaser pony at the famed Segenhoe Stud, just a few kilometres downwind from the other farm, has it also.

Curiously, the pony reportedly has not been touched by a human for three weeks.

Department of Fisheries officials said they believe the virus was transmitted by wind. "It is the only way possible," agreed a Segenhoe spokesman.

That means the breeding industry in NSW is in absolute chaos. If the wind carries the bug, then all 15,000 newly born foals in the region are in jeopardy.

"It is a bitter blow, and a very bleak day for breeding," NSW Primary Industries Minister Ian Macdonald said.

"It's possible we could lose one or two years (of) breeding and it is very serious. Scone is home to 15 large studs and around 150 studs overall. We had a limited pilot project for some joinings to occur in the foreseeable future, but unfortunately this latest testing right in the heart of Scone puts those plans in some jeopardy."

Although EI is not deadly to healthy adult horses, the concern is now at code-red level for the newborns, as their immune system is fragile.

Meanwhile, Prime Minister John Howard took time away from visiting U.S. President George W. Bush to announce his federal government is very sympathetic to the crisis. Howard is expected to announce on Sept. 7 a bailout package of tens of millions of dollars to everyone affected in the industry.

The first case of equine influenza in Australia was detected Aug. 23 in a shuttle stallion at Sydney's Eastern Creek quarantine station, and 52 horses remain there indefinitely in a state of lockdown.

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