DIRECT exports from South Africa to the European Union could well be back on track as early as December next year or January 2019, according to Adrian Todd,  speaking for the Horseracing industry’s Import-Export Task Team (HIETT), reports NICCI GARNER on TAB News.

Todd was speaking at a recent workshop attended by the most important decision-makers in the South African horseracing industry and was upbeat about the recent progress made by the team chaired by prominent owner and businessman Chris van Niekerk.

“We have been working diligently to fix the issues raised in a 2013 audit by the EU, getting expert advice domestically and internationally, and have verified we are on the right path,” said Todd. “There remains work to be done before the official EU audit in the middle of next year, but we know we’ve made real strides in our record keeping, communication and movement control. We are on path to meet or exceed our commitments to upgrade where necessary.”

Exports of South African horses have historically taken months because of a equine disease endemic to Africa called African Horse Sickness (AHS). Just like malaria is transferred through a mosquito bite, AHS is transferred by a bite from the Culicoides Midge.

All horses north of Cape Town have to be inoculated against AHS but cases have occurred in the AHS-control zones in the Western Cape. It has now been proven that the cases in the controlled areas were vaccine related and new controls regarding the timing of vaccinations are believed to have solved this risk.

There was an enormous breakthrough last year, though, when Prof Alan Guthrie and his colleagues at the University of Pretoria Faculty of Veterinary Science’s Equine Research Centre announced they had developed a diagnostic test, known as a RT-PCR Test (polymerase chain reaction used in molecular biology to amplify a single copy or a few copies of a segment of DNA). The test can determine with absolute certainty a horse’s AHS status within four hours. It previously took a minimum of two weeks to obtain a diagnosis.

The test was officially validated by the OIE last year and since then Van Niekerk, Todd and his team have been working diligently to get the protocols governing exports from South Africa changed.

“The progress we have made shows how far we can go if we work together towards a clear and concise target,” said Todd. “It became evident when the task team was first formed that there were no clear roles and responsibilities assigned. We did not present a united front to the rest of the world. So we put a national plan together with clear actions and responsibilities and we’re seeing the light at the end of the tunnel.”

Horses will still have to stand in a vector-protected (insect-free) quarantine facility, and work is in progress to ultimately reduce the number of days.  In the past SA horses going overseas have had to spend a certain amount of time in quarantine in South Africa, Mauritius and a European country, a journey that took nearly five months.

“Obviously getting exports right will not be a silver bullet for the SA horseracing industry, but our science is solid and has been accepted. We are confident about our position and we’ve got a path to follow. We know exactly where we need to go. We are working towards a resumption of trade after the official audit next year and expect to be allowed to send horses directly abroad by December 2018-January 2019.”