The recent discovery of a positive Piroplasmosis infected horse in NZ justifies the New Zealand health Association’s (NZEHA) work to have an import/export levy, as required by Government, introduced to provide funding to strengthen our borders and enable nimble and effective responses to any future incursions.
NZEHA Chair Dr Ivan Bridge said they would like more data collected on animal health history, and stronger importing protocols imposed to match those of Australia.
Towards the end of May a mare preparing to be exported to Australia to foal down and be served was found to be positive to Theileria equi (piroplasmosis) which immediately closed New Zealand borders to all equine exports.
Australian importing requirements include certification from the New Zealand government that the entire country is free of this disease. Prior to this, New Zealand experienced ‘country freedom’ status as an approved exporter.
Theileria equi is a protozoal parasite that can cause the blood condition Piroplasmosis which causes anaemia and poor condition. It is spread from horse to horse by ticks and iatrogencially by shared equipment such as needles and dental equipment. The ticks that are commonly known to transmit the disease overseas are not present in New Zealand. New Zealand however does have a tick called Haemaphysalis longicornus which can spread other Theileria species so extensive testing of all horses that shared the property with the infected mare is being undertaken to rule out the possibility of tick transmission and iatrogenic spread.
Piroplasmosis is endemic in parts of Europe and can be treated with an antiprotozoal agent however, the treatment may manage the clinical manifestations of the disease but not clear Theileria equi from the horse.
New Zealand exports over 3000 horses each year and MPI (Ministry of Primary Industry) and the NZEHA had to work swiftly together to get exports up and running again.
Exports have resumed under interim arrangements that involves extra testing and MPI continues to work with Australian authorities with a goal of removing the onerous extra testing. Negotiations are also underway with other importing countries and good progress is being made.
Dr Ivan Bridge believes that for the sake of our exporters we need to do more.
“We, being MPI and the NZEHA, we are all in this together and we have learnt a lot,” he said. “Horses entering New Zealand need to be eligible to travel to Australia without extra testing, so ideally our import health standard should satisfy Australia. We wouldn’t have identified that this mare was infected if she hadn’t been going to Australia and hadn’t met their health standards.
“We have worked through all the right processes to propose a levy to the Minister for Primary Industries, and now we need to get it ticked off. Along with the levy we would like to be able to have much better data on our horse population including individual identification of all horses and better availability of health records including previous vaccination history and treatments received by horses that are imported.
All horses and germplasm will pay a levy at the border as importing always carries some risks even with the most thorough testing and quarantine. Exporters have benefited from our country’s disease-free status so all parties need to contribute a modest amount.
“Right now, our biggest issue is getting those pregnant mares booked into studs in Australia away so they can travel safely and foal in Australia before being covered and returning to New Zealand, and now we have to test the mares and sign a declaration that they are free of piroplasmosis.”
Mares will require a negative Elisa & IFAT on the same blood. The Elisa is done in NZ at Wallaceville but the blood has to be sent to Perth for the IFAT, thus the time delay. AsureQuality need to be confident they can sign a property freedom declaration for each mare.
Pregnant mares cannot safely travel after 300 days gestation, so mares served in early September need to leave before the end of June.
Although the cost of the Piroplasmosis response is being funded by the equine industry and MPI. The NZEHA, on behalf of the equine industry is a Government Industry Agreement(GIA) partner with MPI. A GIA is a partnership between industry groups and the Government to improve biosecurity in New Zealand and allows the NZEHA to work alongside Government in equine disease responses and have a say in equine biosecurity matters. Nearly all primary industries have a GIA whether it is Kiwifruit or the Pork Industry.
The New Zealand Equine Health Association (NZEHA) was formed in 1998 in response to changes in animal and biosecurity law laid out in the NZ Biosecurity Act 1993. The organisation represents all equine organisations in matters relating to equine health, equine welfare and equine disease incursion.
The NZTBA is one of members of the NZEHA, and CEO Justine Sclater sits on the board along with representatives from NZTR, Equestrian Sports NZ, NZ Pony Clubs, NZ Royal Agricultural Society and via them Equine Breed Societies, NZ Racing Board (now RITA), Harness Racing NZ, NZ Standardbred Breeders’ Association, NZERF/Equine Trust, New Zealand Equine Veterinary Association. All the members to date have paid a voluntary contribution to fund the NZRHA with RITA committing the most at $30,000 per annum last year.
NZ Bloodstock Airfreight and International Racehorse Transport export the majority of the horses from New Zealand and they along with other transport operators have been affected by the positive piroplasmosis case.
“2020 has not been a vintage year for us,” said Greg Northcott NZB’s Airfreight Manager who has been working closely with MPI and the NZEHA.
“We already had a lot of horses held up from going to Australia due to COVID and then we were hit with this. It probably put us back another three weeks and there were probably about 300 horses affected.
“Trying to manage every single country in the world with their different protocols has been a challenge. I would like to think we could get back to ‘country freedom’ in the next few months, it’s very important for us to have that to easily export to Australia.
“For example, we can’t export to China at the moment, and the number of horses that go to China is in the same bracket as the number of horses that go to Singapore each year. That’s more than we now send to Malaysia and Macau. It was becoming a consistently good number for us.
“We are still exporting to Hong Kong and Singapore should open up again next month, but it is to Australia and back that is our most important route.”
Australia is our biggest export market and the procedure for sending a horse across the Tasman has always been very straightforward. It costs around $6,000 including all the certification. Every year dozens of racehorses campaign or are sold to Australia and a large number of mares are sent there to stud.
“In the case of a racehorse, previously a trainer could ring me and ask to send a horse to Australia and the horse could be there in a week’s time,” said Northcott.
“Now it is a three or four week wait. Previous to the piroplasmosis case horses only needed to be checked by a registered vet, now it’s a government vet and they have to take bloods etc. It’s an extra $600-700 cost or around 10% more to export the horse.
“Although this applies to mares going to stud as well, they are not affected so much as they can happily graze in a paddock while they wait, but it’s a whole different story with a racehorse in work.
“We are confident it’s a one off, and confident that it hasn’t been passed on, but a lot of money has to be spent and work done to prove this and get us back to ‘country freedom’.”
The mare who originally returned a positive test for Theileria equi was imported to New Zealand for breeding purposes in compliance with the import health standard in place in February 2019 by Cambridge Stud, and has not displayed any signs of illness in her time here.
At the time of her import to New Zealand, she met all the requirements including testing negative for Theileria equi within the required 21 days before shipment and had undergone full quarantine in the United Kingdom before export and in New Zealand on arrival.
Scientists from the Ministry of Primary Industries (MPI) along with the New Zealand Equine Health Association (NZEHA) worked with the Cambridge Stud to quarantine the horse and immediately test all adult horses that were either paddock mates of the infected horse or had grazed the same pasture as the animal. These 22 animals all tested negative for Theileria equi.
Subsequent testing was carried out on 241 other horses at the stud to provide confidence that the operation is free of the organism and with all testing negative it appears that there has been no transmission of it within the farm. Further testing is also being carried out on all mares that visited Cambridge Stud during the breeding season.
The costs to date have been in the vicinity of $100,000 and is shared by MPI and the NZEHA.
Going forward further work will be done on establishing that the ticks present in New Zealand are not a vector for this disease and a further plan will be set in place to satisfy our trading partners that we are disease free.
Bridge is confident that ‘country freedom’ can be achieved again and hopes that a suitable case will be presented to the OIE the World Organisation for Animal Health and our trading partners later in the year.
“We have to declare ourselves free based on protocols laid down by the OIE,” he concluded, “we are yet to finalise all the information and testing data we need to satisfy the OIE criteria, but we will keep working on it.”
The mares will require a nedative Elisa & IFAT on the same blood. The Elisa is done in NZ at Wallaceville but the blood has to be sent to Perth for the IFAT, thus the time delay. AsureQuality need to be confident they can sign a property freedom declaration for each mare.
In 2015 the EHA signed a Government Industry Agreement (GIA) with Government which simply made Government and Industry partners in equine biosecurity matters. Thus the disease response cost is a joint responsibility of MPI and industry (EHA).