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Federal Issues Affecting the U.S. Horse Industry

Editor’s Note:
This article is the ninth in our series relative to federal issues affecting the horse industry. This week’s article deals with federal funding for equine research.

Federal Funding for Equine Research

Research plays an extremely positive role in protecting our horses’ health and assisting the industry in the production of high quality animals that are sought after worldwide. Equine research has helped eradicate and control diseases and solved other problems, such as those associated with reproduction, genetics and athletic injuries. In order to build on these accomplishments and be globally competitive, additional research which benefits the equine industry must be conducted and the results of that research must be readily available to the industry nationwide.

The U.S. must have a comprehensive nationwide biosecurity or infrastructure system to prevent the introduction of foreign animal diseases from other countries. We rely on the Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) to provide the veterinary infrastructure to protect and promote the animal health of U.S. livestock. In the past decade, funding for APHIS decreased significantly, weakening the very infrastructure that is in place to prevent, diagnose and respond to a disease introduction. Efforts have been made to fully fund APHIS to protect the U.S. animal agriculture industries, particularly when the world is now facing the spread of Foot and Mouth Disease, West Nile Virus and many other important diseases.

Research conducted by the Agricultural Research Service (ARS) and the Cooperative State Research, Education, and Extension Service (CSREES) provides the basis for the system to protect and promote the animal agriculture industries. Funding must be increased in ARS and CSREES to meet the needs of animal agriculture with emerging, domestic and foreign animal diseases.

Additional research into diseases such as Vesicular Stomatitis (VS) and Mare Reproductive Loss Syndrome (MRLS) us also needed. Vesicular Stomatitis is a disease that affects equines as well as other livestock. Its visual similarity to Foot and Mouth Disease (FMD) gives the disease its international importance. Although FMD does not occur in horses, VS does. The appearance of blisters on the mouth and feet of equine and other livestock makes it a concern for the industry.

In March, 2002, a rumor that FMD was the cause of mouth blisters in nine cattle in a Kansas market caused an estimated one day loss of $70 million in the commodity markets. In light of the current FMD situation worldwide, an outbreak of VS in the U.S. could have devastating economic consequences.

Continued research into the causes of Vesicular Stomatitis and its rapid diagnosis is essential. Unfortunately, interest on the part of researchers is waning at this time. More alarming is the lack of financial support given by ARS to VS research. In fact, it is seen as unimportant because the research currently being done is so equine oriented.

Mare Reproductive Loss Syndrome (MRLS) occurred in the spring of 2001 and caused significant losses to the U.S. horse industry, particularly in Kentucky. The cause of MRLS is still unknown. It resulted in significant early fetal loss in mares bred in 2001 and stillborn or neonatal deaths in mares bred in 2000. The economic loss to the horse industry just from MRLS is estimated to be $338 million.

Congressional Action
The President’s 2003 budget requests increased funding to ARS by $8 million to fund emerging diseases and exotic pests research. The animal disease research funding request is urgently needed to develop rapid diagnostics, vaccines and products necessary to protect our U.S. livestock from disease outbreaks, including Vesicular Stomatitis, FMD, BSE and many others. Another important program, the National Research Initiative (NRI) provides a wide spectrum of basic research needs and will result in future practical outcomes for U.S. agriculture and needs to be funded properly. Increased funding for animal agriculture research in ARS and CSREES is essential to continue to meet the current and future needs of animal agriculture.

AHC Position
The AHC supports more funding for equine research. It supports continued funding of Vesicular Stomatitis research and urges the ARS to make VS research a priority.

In lieu of the current equine health problems, like Mare Reproductive Loss Syndrome, it is now critical that the industry seek Congressional support for establishing more funding for research into equine diseases.

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