THE racing and breeding industries are constantly looking for information and answers from Adrian Todd, who heads the drive for open exports of our thoroughbreds on behalf of the SA Equine Health & Protocols (SAEHP) the implementation arm of the Import/Export Task Team. To get the latest, we posed seven questions to Todd, who is at the coalface of negotiations.

1. On a scale of 1-10, with 1 being easy and 10 being extremely difficult – how would you rate your job in carrying out the stated goal of the SAEHP to “unlock the R1-billion per annum equine industry”, in the last 18 months.

It started as a solid 9, but the task is getting easier as we make progress. There were three things to do, namely 1) to create trust in South Africa’s competence and ability to control AHS with foreign governments; 2) to upskill SA’s implementation of the 2013 European Union (EU) audit recommendations in order to comply with EU standards and regulations and 3) to create trust with foreign industry that we had all requirements in place and that we could provide a long term, safe, export pathway. In a nutshell, South Africa had to meet the EU requirements and satisfy foreign governments and industry that our systems were sound and incorruptible. Otherwise, either of these two could lobby to block us. The EU protocol is in place, 40 days vector protected and the new protocol of 14 days vector proof. We are currently pushing for an audit and once that is completed and we have proven our ability to comply we should open up.

2. Have you encountered a willingness to help, from individuals/veterinarians and officials all over the world?

Yes, without a doubt. The efforts put in by people all over the world have been amazing. Internationally, the opportunities brought by two-way trade with South Africa have been realised. However, it must be understood that people need to be satisfied that the risk is mitigated, because they are presently trading successfully without  South Africa. In order for them to trade with us, we must prove that we do not present a risk, perceived or real. To that end we have utilised the services of some of the world’s leading scientists and respected political advisors to assist in advancing our cause and providing us with advice from an international perspective

3. South Africa’s breeders and owners, Phumelela, the TBA, CTS and others have put millions into research over the last maybe 20 years. How much closer are we to a dead vaccine now than we were 20 years ago?

SAEHP separated the long-term vaccine research from the protocol drive, however a lot of progress has been made in the vaccine arena with significant world involvement. There are some exciting developments in that area

4. With our suspension being over, why are we not travelling direct to places like Hong Kong, Singapore and Dubai?

While individual non-European Union countries can obviously deal outside of the EU regulations, the majority operate on the basis of equivalency. The non-EU trade partners are all fully updated and as soon as the EU audit is complete, we will re-discuss with them. This is something we are hoping to do in the first quarter of 2019, however as soon as the EU have finalised the audit date we will be able to give a better timeline

6. It’s been one-way traffic from places like Australia, who send their horses to us but we have to go to great lengths and cost to get ours out there. Shouldn’t we be instituting embargos or significant tariffs on their imports?

No. Tariffs and embargos are rarely if ever a good way to achieve sustainable two-way trade.

6. Mike de Kock said in an article this week that information about alleged outbreaks are slow to get to trainers. Is this a problem and how can it be solved?

The delay is not in the notification of suspect cases, however getting the results do take time. Depending on where the case is the couriers are also a factor, simply put, the courier services in SA could be better. Samples are sent to government-registered labs and while the PCR test does give results within four hours, there is always a queue for PCR tests for avian influenza (bird flu) and several other diseases. The labs test as quickly as possible. All cases from all industries are treated with equal importance.

7. Another issue raised has been the quarantine station at Kenilworth, said to be standing empty at this moment. We have this facility, why aren’t we showing confidence in ourselves by using it? Vector-proof stables have to be used if there are confirmed cases of AHS within a 30km radius of all training centres. Why can’t travelling trainers use the PCR test when the horses leave, arrive at the quarantine station on the other side and again when needed? AHS is not contagious.

The quarantine station is currently in use for an export shipment to Mauritius, it is not possible to mix horses exporting to Mauritius and horses travelling domestically. We would also be putting our free zone at risk.

Imagine a horse moving there to quarantine from a high risk area where AHS is circulating, (we only quarantine incoming horses when its high risk not all the time), the horse then becomes positive for AHS. We’ll then have an AHS case in our free zone, and even worse inside our export  quarantine facility. It would be a disaster, the idea of exports would be over forever. Previously horses had to quarantine prior to entering the zones and then again within the zone. However this was a risky protocol as it was pointed out to us that in terms of the EU protocols an AHS case within the controlled area would be considered a case, whether or not within a Vector Protected Quarantine. The risk was just too great.

The idea now is that we are cancelling out the risk before the horse arrives in the controlled area so that we are comfortable the horse is no risk for AHS spread, so there is no need to quarantine within the controlled area for travelling trainers. This cuts the quarantine period from 4 weeks to 2. The longer term plan was always to have vector protected double door facilities at training centres outside of the Cape. This will solve all of the movement issues into the Cape, the plans are advanced and this will be in place for next season. I totally agree with Mike de Kock that domestic movement has been difficult, however these plans that have been developed allow us to comply with all the regulations as well as make domestic movements possible.

The PCR test, while having simplified and hastened our ability to diagnose AHS as well as confirm a negative status, is not unfortunately the solution to everything. It does not account for the incubation period of the AHS virus (when the virus is not detectable in the blood) and this can be up to 10 days. This is why the 14 day quarantine, as well as testing is required.

So while we are using it for travelling trainers as suggested in the question, we have to use it within the tests limitations, and add extra steps in order to take this incubation period into account. Its been a long road, but I am confident that we now have all the pieces in place. We must stay the course, get trading and then we can try and make other changes to the protocols.

We need the world, much more than they need us. That said people want to trade with SA, we must continue to present a united front committed to providing the world confidence in our risk mitigation measures and we will succeed! 

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