Regulatory strategies to control the spread of animal disease, as well as to restrict the availability and use of animal drugs on the farm, at the racetrack, and in other competitive venues are likely to reach out and tickle recreational horse owners in the coming months. Increased veterinary oversight is likely to be a result of these trends.
The Food and Drug Administration is in the process of moving medically-important antimicrobial agents to veterinary prescription status, due to concern for antibiotic resistance in the human population. As a result, some common therapies like penicillin may no longer be available on feed store shelves. The Food and Drug Administration is holding a series of regional meetings through June, and will likely issue revised draft regulations a few months later.
The horsemeat scandal in Europe is causing changes in horse identification which may also ripple across the ocean. Although the primary issue in the scandal is economic and not one of food safety (horsemeat is less expensive than beef), food safety issues are also being raised by advocates.
The European system is quite different than our American one. Unlike here, all horses in Europe are required to carry a passport, which details health history and drug usage. Passports are commonly issued by British and other breed societies and also serve as documentation of registration. Passports record movement of horses, as well as a history of vaccination and drug administration. Medications as minor as butazolidin are required to be entered. Britain recently disbanded its National Equine Database; however European law may soon require reestablishment of a central database and consolidation of passport authority within a single entity.
The United States is not immune to this trend toward permanent identification and tracking. As reported in a prior Covertside, the US Department of Agriculture has already amped up enforcement of health certifcates that are required to accompany horses crossing interstate lines. States will have a measure of discretion as to whether the identification charts on the Equine Infectious Anemia test reports are adequate – if not, microchip or similar requirements may take hold in this country.
Controversy over horse slaughter in the United States may also give added impetus to identification and tracking requirements. Both the US House of Representatives and the US Senate have introduced versions of the Safeguard American Food Exports Act (HR 1094 and S 491), with 94 House cosponsors and 9 in the Senate. These bills prohibit the sale or transport of equines and equine parts in interstate or foreign commerce for human consumption, and more importantly, both unequivocally declare that consuming parts of an equine raised in the United States likely poses a serious threat to human health and the public should be protected from these unsafe products. Regardless of whether the legislation passes, statements like these will likely curtail any foreign market for American horsemeat, until additional safeguards may be implemented, and will also likely give a boost to advocates favoring permanent, traceable identification for all American equines.
Racetrack rules are also evolving toward greater standardization. Eight Mid-Atlantic and Northeast states agreed this spring to a uniform medication and drug testing program for horseracing in New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Delaware, Maryland, Virginia, West Virginia, and Massachusetts. Under the program, medications are divided into two categories – either prohibited totally or “controlled therapeutic substances.” Standard withdrawal times are prescribed for each of the 24 medications on the permitted list. No drugs other than furosemide (Salix or Lasix) may be administered on the same day that a horse races, and may be administered only by a specially authorized veterinarian. This program may ultimately pave the way for national standardization of medication rules at racetracks.
As always, animal legislation at the state and local levels also continues to bear monitoring. As this column goes to press, North Carolina is considering HB 930 – legislation which would define “large commercial breeders” to include any individual who owns 10 or more female dogs, regardless of whether they are actually breeding or selling dogs. Adoption of this definition would permit tremendous expansion of regulation over individuals and entities that breed dogs, including foxhunting clubs.
Legislation pending in Connecticut (HB 6690) seeks to appoint special “animal advocates” to represent the interests of animals in court cases. These independent volunteers (drawn from a list maintained by the State's Commissioner of Agriculture) would be required to conduct an independent investigation of the case and to present information at any hearings held on the matter in question. The American Kennel Club has expressed concern with unintended consequences that may result from the legislation, including the possibility that individual ownership rights could be diminished in ways similar to states that have animal “guardianship” instead of animal “ownership”. AKC also fears that passage of this bill may affect the legal status of animals as personal property. This bill was introduced in early May.