British, Irish Breeders Hopeful Despite Restrictions

By Mark Popham and Stephanie Church
British and Irish breeders are hoping mares that can't be shipped to stallions because of restrictions imposed by the foot-and-mouth outbreak will be able to do so later in the breeding season.

Movement of horses in Great Britain, outside the immediate exclusion zones around the 70 confirmed British outbreaks of foot and mouth, is not controlled. Dispensation, with proper precautions, is possible even within such zones.

Overseas countries, which have restricted movement of animals, are causing problems. Ireland, which has a huge horse breeding industry, has temporarily banned imports of horses, and Minister of Agriculture Joe Walsh has made it very clear that he does not want Irish horses traveling to Britain.

The Irish racing industry, which recently received a lot of extra funding from the Irish government, is not willing to jeopardize its relationship with the government. The Irish Trainers Association has said no horses will travel to the biggest jump meeting of the year in Britain, the Cheltenham Festival, if it takes place on schedule March 13-15.

Many of the bigger stallion facilities were alert at the beginning of the outbreak, before any restrictions were announced, and managed to move mares in and out of Ireland.

The extremely contagious disease develops in cattle, pigs, and sheep. Horses can be carriers of the disease, which causes blisters near the hoof.

Racing in Britain, after a seven-day suspension to allow extra precautions to be put together and instituted against foot and mouth disease, is set to resume at Lingfield on Wednesday.

In another development, Jim Scudamore, the British government's chief veterinary officer, revealed Monday that the foot-and-mouth outbreak appears under control. "We are sure other cases will appear, although I can't tell how many, or for how long."
If the outbreak is controlled, it is then a question of how long the Irish and other governments which have reacted with bans on horses will take to lift them.

French Minister of Agriculture Jean Glavany announced Monday that the movement of animals in France has been suspended for 15 days. The country has no reported cases of foot-and-mouth disease.

The last major outbreak of the disease in Britain was in 1967. Dr. Peter Timoney, head of the Gluck Equine Research Center at the University of Kentucky, said the disease caused tremendous financial losses and destruction of animals, because infected animals must be slaughtered and their carcasses incinerated.

"The epidemic was catastrophic by any standards; this one will be of equal magnitude," he said. "For the individuals whose stock have been affected, it's not just a dollars-and-cents issue. It can result in the loss of bloodlines that go back two or three generations in a family. We're talking about people directly affected, whose livelihood relies on the livestock industry. All of these people ultimately suffer."

"It's a state of paralysis," said Dr. Tim Cordes, Senior Staff Veterinarian of Equine Programs at the United States Department of Agriculture. "It's clearly going to affect horse shows and horse races."

Canadian customs and food inspection officers have stepped up inspection of incoming flights from Britain to ensure no meat products infested with the disease spark an outbreak in Canada. Claude Lavigne, deputy director of animal health at the Canadian Food Inspection Agency, said Canadians who go to Britain are being asked to avoid farms.

A team of nearly 100 experts from Canada, the U.S., and Mexico are on standby in case the disease finds its way into North America.

German officials confiscated British sandwiches as possible carriers of the disease, along with all other meat and milk products. They destroyed uneaten food from passengers who arrived on flights from Britain in Hamburg, Munich, Frankfurt, and at other airports. By Mark Popham and Stephanie Church