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Minister Smith welcomes Inquiry Report findings into outbreak of Equine Flu in Australia

The Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, Brendan Smith T.D., today noted the findings of the report of the Inquiry into last year's outbreak of equine flu (EI) released by the Australian authorities this week.

The Inquiry's report effectively clears Ireland as being the source of the virus and the main focus of the report is on a breakdown in biosecurity procedures, which are central to the effective operation and management of import quarantine systems. The resulting outbreak of disease gave rise to the first ever cases of Equine Influenza (EI) in the states of New South Wales and Victoria, Australia in August 2007. It was also the most serious disease threat that Australia's horseracing industry had ever faced, resulting in major disruption of and cost to the entire Australian equine industry.

The Minister recalled that 15 prestigious Irish stallions sent to Australia for the breeding season had been caught up in a prolonged "lock down" of the quarantine stations where they were sequestered.

"From Ireland's perspective the outcome is very positive" said the Minister "in that, the report finds that the most probable explanation for the origin of the outbreak, based on the epidemiological evidence, is that it came from horses that originated in Japan where there had also been an outbreak of EI and not from stallions originating in Ireland as had been suggested at the outset of the Inquiry".

The Minister said that his Department's veterinary service had made a detailed submission to the Inquiry and went on to say "I am pleased to report that Ireland's position as outlined in the statement provided to the independent inquiry is totally vindicated. This is particularly important given the high reputation of the Irish blood stock industry".

The Minister said that the equine flu outbreak in Australia and the Equine Infectious Anaemia outbreak here in 2006 both clearly demonstrated how easily animal diseases can arise and spread and underlined the importance of adhering to high veterinary and biosecurity standards.

"I have noted that the recommendations of the Inquiry includes proposals for the tightening up of pre-export quarantine conditions for all countries exporting to Australia and I am confident that the Irish veterinary service will be able to implement any revised conditions that may arise," the Minister concluded.

13 June, 2008

Note for Editors:

Equine Influenza (EI) is described as an "acute, highly contagious viral disease which can cause rapidly spreading outbreaks of respiratory disease in horses, donkeys and mules and other equine species". It is not generally fatal to horses. It is usually spread by:

  • Direct contact between infected and susceptible horses
  • Indirect contact with contaminated tack or equipment
  • Susceptible horses occupying buildings or vehicles recently occupied by diseased horses
  • Close contact between contaminated horses handlers and healthy horses.

Date Released: 13 June 2008