On May 30, veterinarian Ed Ford, a former Kentucky state senator and current deputy secretary of the Executive Cabinet for Kentucky Gov. Paul Patton, visited U.S. Department of Agriculture Secretary Ann M. Veneman in Washington, D.C., to underscore the plight of the Kentucky horse industry as result of Mare Reproductive Loss Syndrome.
Ford was joined by Dr. Peter Timoney, head of the Gluck Equine Research Center of the University of Kentucky; Greg Avioli, deputy commissioner of the National Thoroughbred Racing Association; and members of the American Horse Council (AHC), including president Jay Hickey and Infectious Disease Committee member and veterinarian Marv Beeman (a former president of the American Association of Equine Practitioners).
Ford said Veneman received the information with an open mind, and said she would consider any relevant facts that pertain to the tremendous losses sustained by the horse industry in Kentucky. In the state's Thoroughbred industry alone, losses are estimated at $200-$250 million. Some horse farms lost 100% of next year's foal crop.
Ford said that as a former secretary of agriculture in California, Veneman is aware of the impact of equine industry in California and elsewhere, and was extremely knowledgeable of the situation in Kentucky.
Horses, however, are not looked at as agricultural products by USDA; they are viewed as companion animals, Ford explained. "That's the reason we are having a hard time getting money available for aid," said Ford. "We were there to offer support for special legislation for low-interest loans."
The legislation being drafted would restrict the loans to farms that lost 30% or more of a foal crop and could demonstrate financial need. The maximum loan would be $1.5 million per farm.
"I emphasized to secretary Veneman that there were small farms who lost four of five of their own foals, but 19 of their boarders might have left town because of the problem," said Dr. Ford. "That is what really hurts a farm owner's income. This also will have a ripple effect for several years to come.
"I want people to understand that the governor is deeply concerned," continued Ford, stressing that Patton was communicating with federal officials from the outset of the problem, including a letter sent to Veneman on May 18.