Experts call for better testing as equine health gets an Olympic spotlight

As the Summer Olympic Games in Rio capture the world’s attention with top horses traveling there to compete, some experts in the equine health field are highlighting what they call an antiquated system of testing the animals for disease upon their entry to the U.S.

Simply put, when a mare is imported from certain countries, she is subject to skin and blood tests for contagious equine metritis (CEM), a sexually transmitted disease that isn’t deadly but can lead to infertility. For imported stallions, who can’t be tested for the disease, they're instead made to breed with two mares for weeks; the mares are then tested for CEM, according to The New York Times.

If a test mare is confirmed to have the disease, she's likely to receive an antibiotic course for treatment, though euthanasia is an option, the newspaper reports.

The disease’s potential to cause infertility is considered an economic risk for the equine industry, and therefore some testing is needed; but in speaking with the NYT, critics called the existing system “dinosaur age,” and “outdated.” A laboratory culture test for the disease does exist, NYT says, but it isn’t approved by authorities because its effectiveness hasn’t been proven.

So for now, there's no good alternative. “The equine industry in the U.S. remains very concerned about the potential impact of a CEM outbreak on the U.S. horse population,” said Joelle Hayden, a spokeswoman for the animal health inspection service, in an email to the paper. The industry “wants the CEM import testing program to remain in place for the protection of all U.S. horses who could be affected.”

- here’s the NYT story (sub. req.)

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