Reports in farm journals and publications covering the beef and dairy industries have created some confusion for horse owners. The reports refer to new regulations governing transportation of livestock, and seem to suggest that horse owners will be subject to new, onerous burdens, including rigorous identification documents and health certification. A review of the 37-page summary of the new rules, which became effective in March, provides clarification.
But first, here is some alphabet soup for horse owners to digest. The United States Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) has new requirements governing transporting horses. While neither an Animal Identification Number (AIN), nor a Premises Identification Number (PIN) is mandatory, an Interstate Certificate of Veterinary Inspection (ICVI) is. The Regulatory Impact Analysis (RIA) estimates that it could cost horse owners anywhere from $4 to $7.50 to comply.
Clear enough? The rules are aimed primarily at improving traceability of livestock in the United States, so that contagious diseases may be more efficiently traced to their sources. Horses are considered livestock under the Animal Health Protection Act, which provided the authority for APHIS to develop and enforce these rules, and therefore, the new rules will affect horse owners.
Horses moving from their home farm to a veterinary hospital for treatment won’t require an ICVI. But horses being transported from one state to another for show, sale or other purposes will require an ICVI, which is already fairly standard. Most states routinely require health certificates for horses coming from another state. The ICVI, which must be completed by a veterinarian, certifies that the horse is in good condition and is not exhibiting any signs of contagious disease. Generally these certificates are valid for 30 days, and they must include the name and address of the individual or company shipping the horse, and the horse’s destination. The identification of the specific horse is included in the proof of negative Coggins, which is required by every state. Some states require new Coggins tests every six months, while others accept annual tests. The cost of the ICVI could run somewhat higher than the $4-$7.50 estimated by APHIS, especially if an individual horse does not have a current negative Coggins test.
Traceability Is the New Normal
Most of the new rules govern interstate transport of cattle, swine and poultry, and are intended to protect the food supply. But because there are contagious diseases that can be devastating to horses and horse farms, APHIS has included horse transport in the rules.
APHIS invited public comment on the proposed rules, and explained the rationale behind the rules. “Preventing and controlling animal disease is the cornerstone of protecting American animal agriculture.” The rules cannot prevent disease. But they can minimize the impact of contagious diseases by identifying the sources and providing traceability from diseased animals to their home and any places where the animals were comingled with animals from other herds.
Many of the individuals and industry groups that commented on the rules questioned why horses were not excluded from the new regulations, since equines are not considered food animals in the United States. APHIS reasoned that horses are part of animal agriculture in the United States, thus it is reasonable for them to be included in the rules. Recently there have been catastrophic outbreaks of contagious equine metritis, equine herpes virus, equine infectious anemia and equine piroplasmosis that have been economically and emotionally costly. During these outbreaks it was not always clear where the diseases originated, or how many animals had been exposed. Traceability is a critical tool in minimizing the impact of contagious diseases.
Keeping Records, Adapting to Changes
The new rules stipulate that veterinarians who receive or who issue an ICVI must retain the records for five years. This requirement created some controversy, because of the possible costs involved in record-keeping. The conversion to electronic record-keeping will likely decrease the burdens associated with this requirement, and APHIS declined to make any changes in this part of the requirement.
As the rules are incorporated into everyday life for horse owners, it’s likely that adaptations will be introduced to make things more convenient. For instance, Virginia’s office of Veterinary Services is now offering a multi-state ICVI. Of course, the Equine Interstate Event Permit (EIEP) adds even more letters to the alphabet soup concocted by regulators. But this one is a six-month certificate that is recognized by several states, including Alabama, Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, North Carolina, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, Virginia and West Virginia. In addition, New York State has expressed interest in participating in this option. To find out more about the EIEP, and the responsibilities of horse owners who choose the EIEP, check the Virginia Department of Agriculture’s website, http://vdacs.virginia.gov/animals/eiep.shtml. The EIEP will require the horse owner to learn how to take their horses’ temperatures, and assess their conditions and to recognize signs of illness. Results of owners’ periodic examinations of their horses will become part of the travel documents, and owners will be required to sign statements indicating that they are qualified to monitor their horses’ conditions.