AMIDST the euphoria about the European Union (EU)’s announcement on Tuesday of April and May 2020 as audit months for South African bloodstock export protocols, a number of concerns have been raised.
The principal queries posed to the South African Equine Health & Protocols (SAEHP), are whether South Africa is truly ready for this long-awaited audit and, if we are successful, how long it will take for us to start relatively restriction-free trading.
Adrian Todd, CEO of SAHEP, and Dr Camilla Weyer, Senior Research Officer and AHS control manager at SAEHP, addressed the issues and gave some additional background in conversation with Turf Talk.
“Let’s put things in some more perspective,” said Todd. “South Africa dismally failed the EU’s audit in 2013, and it’s been a long and uphill battle ever since, but all the required systems were put into place. Our International Trade and Economic Development Division (ITED), started to request a new audit as far back as March 2018, but we were held back after that when politics came unexpectedly into play with the poultry impasse between the EU and South Africa.
“It took more than eight months of solid negotiation in Europe this year to get us where we are now. We had to call on help from politicians and prominent racing friends who listened to our story and pushed with us.
“The breakthrough had to come from the European side. Eventually, with the help of our well-placed and connected friends, the EU listened and they realised the importance of the proposed audit. They thankfully separated the chicken and horse issues and announced that they would help us.
“We know it’s taken a long time, but the goalposts kept moving. Now, we’ve reached a stage where the machinery is in full operation and things will proceed steadily. It starts with an EU Questionnaire, a pre-audit we will be receiving early in the New Year, but I am pleased to say that we’ll already know the answers to half of what they will be asking of us.
“Since the EU identified the problematic issues and our shortcomings in 2013, we have been rectifying them and providing them with regular updates. We know exactly where we stand, and that is in a strong position. Once this pre-audit has been successfully submitted, the EU will send us specific dates for their official audit, which I expect to be in April 2020.”
Dr Weyer noted some of the shortcomings of 2013 that had been addressed in the last six years.
“In 2013 we had a hodgepodge of national and provincial regulations, separate and confusing rules. They have been simplified and combined into one, and signed off by Dr Mpho Maja, the Director of Animal Health.
“Previously, all our movement control was not auditable at all. We had all the information stacked in files with no way of following up adequately. This process has been digitised for much greater ease and flow of information.
“Aside from African Horse Sickness (AHS), there are a number of other diseases that had to be included in the protocols. We had to devise a control system for all of them. Most of the specifics for the other diseases were standardised, but in the case of (AHS) we had to invent the system from scratch. This was effectively done and implemented.”
The crux of it all, said Todd, is that we have essentially devised a proper public/private partnership with our government, everything works, and all has been done for international exports to commence.
“Funding has been tough, we’ve had to rely on our generous benefactors, they have been instrumental in our progress and we are extremely grateful for their support. We would not have come this far without them.”
Todd said that the International Sports Horse Confederation, and the Hong Kong Jockey Club, in particular were hugely helpful in the process. “The HKJC have offered us their veterinarian team for another pre-audit. They contributed technical support and funding for the inactive vaccine development.
“We’ve done dry runs and risk assessments with AUSVET, a very proficient group of people, also with renowned vets Drs Des Laydon and Warwick Bailey. We’re keeping fresh eyes on everything to ensure continued progress. Now is the time to really work together to remain compliant.”
Todd explained that South Africa, in effect, should be seen as consisting of two areas, a free zone with a buffer zone, and an infected zone which covers the rest of the continent.
He elaborated: “It is vital to note that the European Union wishes to deal with the free zone, and they want to see how the free zone trades with the infected zone. This is what they want, and for exports to happen we have to abide by their rules, simple as that.
“There have been no cases of AHS in the surveillance zone in the last three years, all of the reported cases in the early 2000s were caused by vaccines. To overcome this, we adjusted vaccination times and it worked.”
Said Weyer: “We understand that the local movement regulations could cause some complications for people, but this is essential for a successful audit.”
Audits in any sector seldom return flawless results, but Todd said: “We know this, nobody ever gets a 100% clear report. There will be additional recommendations from the EU team after the audit. They will send a report and we will implement what they suggest.
“Once we pass and they are happy, they will send a recommendation for South Africa’s re-instatement to the EU’s Plant/Animal/Food/Feed Committee (PAFF), and the matter will be concluded.
“I am 100% confident that the audit will be successful for us. We have done everything we can, everything humanly possible, to comply with what is needed. We are happy, our associates are happy and the South African government is happy. They have suffered some setbacks with the EU in the past, they will not have put their stamp on this if they weren’t entirely satisfied that we could pass this test.
“The successful re-instatement of direct exports will be a game changer for our entire industry.”