Proposed EIA testing policy yields mixed views

Some fear mandatory testing for equine infectious anemia will be too costly for smaller equine events

CFIA says a proposed new program would adopt a risk-based approach by targeting horses when/if they commingle.
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New federal rules on horse movement and testing for equine infectious anemia could be challenging for some horse shows.

“At that point, we can no longer feasibly budget a show at any kind of venue that would hold a larger group of horses,” said Cain Quam, owner and trainer at Quam Performance Horses in Kendal, Sask.

The incurable and potentially deadly disease — which can cause anemia, anorexia, and fever among other issues — is a recurring problem in Western Canada and has been closely monitored by the Canadian Food Inspection Agency for two decades.

Although the agency says eradicating equine infectious anemia isn’t feasible, it wants to tighten rules on horse movement and mandatory testing, particularly in Saskatchewan and Alberta where EIA has been most prevalent.

But the test is an additional cost that might deter entries at events, Quam argues.

“I think there are clubs that will do and will continue to ask for a mandatory Coggins test and I think some of those clubs will continue to do that because of, maybe, the demographic or the people who participate in those clubs. That may not be a problem,” he said.

Those clubs are in the minority, however, he said, and the majority of horse and pony clubs in his province are grassroots organizations that will be hit by the change.

Testing proponents disagree.

“Equestrian is definitely a very costly sport,” Manitoba horse show organizer Robyn Bjornson, said after an EIA scare in that province last year. “People put a lot of money and time into their horses, their trailers, their tacks. To get a $50 test and get the whole Manitoba herd down to a negative herd so that everybody feels safe to move around, I think is very vital from a provincial standpoint to go forward.”

The CFIA also says the changes won’t hurt grassroots clubs, at least for the program’s first phase when mandatory testing will be aimed at events with 200 horses or more. (That drops to 100 horses in year two and the agency has left the door open to mandatory testing for shows with 50 or more horses.)

“It is anticipated that the majority of horses will not be participating in such events, therefore no significant impact on membership in grassroots clubs is foreseen,” said a CFIA spokesperson. “It is important to note that many equestrian events (e.g. in Eastern Canada, the U.S., and other countries) already have this requirement.”

The quarantine option will also be eliminated. The CFIA previously allowed a positive horse to be put in lifetime quarantine, although veterinarians have said that, in practice, the quarantine was often logistically impossible and the animal was put down anyway.

The first year of the program would also see the end of 30-day traceback activities in Alberta and Saskatchewan. The CFIA would limit interventions to properties where the disease has been actively found on neighbouring “fenceline” premises.

“The proposed new program would adopt a risk-based approach by targeting horses when/if they commingle,” the agency said.

But Quam says that could allow cases to go undetected. As well, a clean test doesn’t mean an animal hasn’t subsequently been infected, he said.

Various fairs and events already introduced a Coggins test requirement because an EIA scare is so disruptive.

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