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Import rules remain on U.S. horses, germplasm

The import restrictions put in place last year on live horses and horse semen and embryos from the U.S. will still be in effect for the 2010 breeding season.

The Canadian Food Inspection Agency put out a reminder to the Canadian equine industry Wednesday, after taking inquiries from importers as to whether last year’s restrictions still apply for this breeding season, a CFIA spokesman said Thursday.

CFIA in January 2009 put restrictions on live U.S. horses and related animals, and restrictions on semen and embryos the following month, in a bid to keep a horse venereal disease out of Canada.

The rules followed an outbreak of contagious equine metritis (CEM) in the U.S., which threatened to spill over into Canada when farms in Ontario and Alberta were found in late 2008 to have received semen the previous spring taken from one of three Kentucky stallions that later tested positive for CEM.

Canada is currently CEM-free, CFIA said, and “in order to maintain this status, import restrictions on animals from the U.S. must remain in place until the U.S. is deemed free of CEM by the CFIA.”

Testing and treatment protocols remain ongoing in 17 U.S. states, CFIA said Wednesday, and the agency will “closely monitor the situation (and) update the import requirements when appropriate.”

Canada thus still requires equines coming from the U.S. to have U.S. veterinary export certificates that certify the animals as CEM-free, as well as import permits.

Germplasm must also carry veterinary export certificates and import permits. For semen, both fresh and frozen, the U.S. zoosanitary export certificates must be endorsed by a U.S. Department of Agriculture veterinarian.

According to the U.S. Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS), the December 2008 outbreak resulted in a total of 22 CEM-positive stallions, five positive mares and 967 other animals exposed to the bacteria that cause CEM. Positive or exposed horses were found in all states except Hawaii and Rhode Island.

Since then, 930 of the 994 U.S. horses involved have been declared free of CEM, APHIS said last month.

“Devastating”

CEM, caused by the bacterium Taylorella equigenitalis, is a “highly contagious” venereal disease in horses and can have a “devastating effect on equine reproductive activity,” CFIA said.

CEM is typically spread through horses’ “reproductive activities,” which also means stallions carrying the disease can spread infection through semen collected for artificial insemination, by which CEM infections can spread from few horses to many more.

The disease occurs naturally only in horses, and all breeds are susceptible, CFIA said.

It can also be transmitted indirectly to mares and stallions on contaminated instruments and equipment such as devices used for artificial insemination, tail bandages, buckets, sponges and gloves, CFIA said.

According to APHIS, clinical signs of CEM can include a vaginal discharge in up to 40 per cent of affected mares, as well as abortion and infertility. Stallions typically show no clinical signs.

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