Dan Fick - Executive Vice President & Executive Director, The Jockey Club

Ogden Mills Phipps: The mere mention of West Nile Virus or MRLS strikes fear into the hearts of many in our industry…and really it should. Outbreaks of these and other diseases can have -- and have had -- crippling effects on livestock commerce. Such episodes have served as a sobering alert to some government officials in this country and have triggered, in recent months, a movement to establish a national animal identification program. Dan Fick, who represents The Jockey Club on many of these important committees, will tell us a little bit about what our industry is doing, and then Under Secretary Bill Hawks will explain how the USDA is dealing with the issue.


Dan Fick: Thank you, Mr. Chairman.

Dr. Peter Timoney, the noted epidemiologist from the Gluck Equine Research Center stated at this year's American Horse Council Convention: "An epidemic or outbreak of certain infectious diseases within the horse population of this country can pose a serious threat to our industry."

In 2001, Hoof and Mouth disease among livestock in England resulted in a nationwide quarantine that forced the cancellation of horse racing for several months. Horses, while not susceptible to Hoof and Mouth, can mechanically carry the disease to farms and events.

The losses to the livestock industry in England numbered 10 million animals and $13 billion. The outbreak of CEM [Contagious Equine Metritis] in Kentucky in 1978 from two imported stallions resulted in the very costly cessation of breeding activity for several weeks until the source of the outbreak could be determined.

West Nile Virus, introduced into the U.S. in 1999, has swept across this continent causing severe illness and a significant number of deaths to horses and humans. An outbreak of Vesicular Stomatitis in West Texas has caused concern for this year's Breeders' Cup.

In 1998, a similar outbreak caused problems with the interstate transportation of horses and forced the cancellation of many equine events. Finally, as recently as the 1980's, literally "tons" of the Glanders bacteria was stockpiled in Russia. Glanders is deadly to both humans and horses, and was being held as a biological weapon.

All of which are reasons why the horse industry should support a National Animal Identification System. We need to protect our horses, control outbreaks of contagious foreign diseases, ensure human health, address the threat of bio-terrorism, maintain a stable economic environment and ensure the freedom of movement and export of our horses.

Perhaps the most important reason to be a responsible member of the livestock industry is to ensure we receive the same benefits as do our friends in the cattle and other livestock businesses - favorable tax rates, emergency relief funds and funding for equine research.

When strategic planning for a U.S. Animal Identification System began in earnest after the Hoof and Mouth outbreak, and then became a matter of urgency after the discovery of Mad Cow Disease in the Northwest, the American Horse Council took the initiative and formed an Equine Identification Task Force. This group of representatives of all aspects of the horse industry has been diligently meeting this year to review these topics and formulate recommendations to the USDA for a national equine identification program. We have since received designation as the USDA Equine Species Working Group.

The issues we are confronting are:
Which horses need to be identified and how?
Which premises should be identified?
What movements need to be tracked and recorded?
Who is responsible for program implementation?
What are the costs and, the big one, who pays?

I can promise you we are seeking the best, most effective and cost-efficient solutions.

Perhaps the most important issue is that horses differ dramatically from the rest of the livestock industry. Horses are more valuable, live longer, move more often, have greater potential for import and export, already have sophisticated identification systems, and are a major sports entertainment and gaming industry of significant economic impact and public interest.

Our industry representatives are also very sensitive to maintaining the security of our horse identification and ownership information.

We are in the process of presenting the following recommendations to the USDA: the horse industry should control implementation and maintain oversight of any national horse identification system; we should be compatible with the international community; existing identification systems should be incorporated; participation should be voluntary in the beginning; identification should begin with breed registration and veterinary inspections; and, most importantly, costs must be affordable to horse owners and industry stake holders.

With all of this in mind, it is a privilege for me to introduce Bill Hawks, the Under Secretary of Agriculture. I must first say that USDA Secretary Ann Veneman and her staff have been extremely cooperative and very receptive to working with the equine industry.

Under Secretary Hawks has been the USDA Animal ID spokesperson traveling the country to listen to the comments and concerns of livestock producers. He brings the right experience to USDA: a Master's degree in agriculture economics from Mississippi State, successful ventures in dairy farming, crop dusting and professional farm management, and, as a Mississippi State Senator, Bill Hawks was a leader on agriculture and environment issues.

Welcome to the Round Table Secretary Hawks…

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