The American Horse Council has opposed the easing of the current 60-day U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) import requirement on horses from Saudi Arabia. Horses from Saudi Arabia, and all countries affected with African Horse Sickness (AHS), must be quarantined for 60 days before entering the U.S., while horses from non-AHS countries may be admitted with a shorter quarantine period. The extended period is required to ensure that horses from AHS countries are not infected with AHS, which has a long incubation period. AHS is a highly contagious and deadly disease that affects horses, donkeys, and mules and has a mortality rate of up to 95% in naive horse populations like that in the U.S.
In response to a 2009 request by Saudi Arabia to be recognized as free of AHS, USDA studied the status of the disease in that country. The USDA evaluation used information provided by Saudi Arabia and other sources. Based on its evaluation, USDA concluded that AHS was not known to be present in Saudi Arabia and that the likelihood of introducing AHS into the U.S. through imports of horses from that country was low. But USDA also concluded that "the biological and economic consequences of an AHS outbreak in the United States could be high." In June, USDA proposed to change the federal import rules to remove Saudi Arabia from the list of countries affected by AHS and allow horses to be imported with a much shorter quarantine period.
In lengthy comments filed with the Department on Aug. 11, the AHC opposed removing Saudi Arabia from the list of countries affected with AHS. The AHC maintained that the potential benefits were not sufficient to offset the potential adverse consequences, which included the high mortality rate, up to 95%; the costs of caring for or euthanizing and disposing of sick horses; the imposition of interstate and international controls and travel restrictions on equine movements, which is so important to the industry, that would accompany an outbreak; and the resultant economic affects and lost revenue to the industry in breeding, racing, showing and exhibiting horses.
The AHC noted that most of the U.S.'s trading partners, and particularly the World Organization for Animal Health (OIE), did not recognize Saudi Arabia as AHS-free. The AHC also questioned whether USDA or the industry itself would have the resources to respond to an AHS outbreak.
The AHC concluded that the USDA evaluation did not make a sufficient case to change the rules and put U.S. horses and the $102-billion U.S. horse industry at risk of AHS. To review the AHC comments please visit the Regulations section on the Issues page of the AHC website.