Picture: 123RF/ MELORY S
Picture: 123RF/ MELORY S

In a push as forceful as a Rugby World Cup scrum, a concerted move is under way to ease the strict protocols stifling the export of SA thoroughbreds to overseas destinations.

If successful, it will throw a lifeline to the SA bloodstock industry as well as safeguard more than 170,000 jobs.

At present, SA-bred horses sold overseas have to spend 21 days in quarantine in SA, then three months in Mauritius and, on arrival in the EU, 30-60 more days in residency before onward transportation.

Adrian Todd, MD of SA Equine Health & Protocols, is the general in command of the operation and he believes that — after intense negotiations at home — a favourable outcome is a real possibility.

“Everything is in place. We believe we have made such gigantic strides that we no longer need to prove that we present a risk, perceived or real. We are appealing for action from the EU because it is time for fair trade,” said Todd when asked to explain the battle lines he had drawn up.

“I believe we are in a position to pass an EU audit and the government also feels that we will pass. We need an audit of the protocols by the EU’s veterinary officials — the world looks to the EU, which is considered a gold standard. When we start trading with the EU other countries will come on line.

“Obviously, countries need convincing that our horses will not bring SA horse sickness with them. We've done just that because the partnership between Daff [department of agriculture, forestry & fisheries] and the industry has resulted in the implementation of a world-class disease control system,” he said.

“This system will stand up to the closest scrutiny. In short, the protocol with the EU is in place as required and all indications from them indicate that they are satisfied with the progress.

“However, an audit is required to reopen direct trade. Daff has requested an audit date from the EU for over a year without success, which is why I am travelling to Europe to request immediate action.”

Unfortunately, like a general who has been fighting battles simultaneously on all fronts, Todd has encountered an unforeseen problem — chickens.

“We have suddenly found ourselves caught up in a chicken war. The EU has stated that no audit regarding horses will be forthcoming while poultry exports to SA are closed after the 2017 Asian influenza outbreak.

“So some bureaucrats in Brussels could put a spanner in the works in our attempt for fair trade. This is why I will be appealing to our friends in the UK and Ireland to get involved and support our cause — like the huge advances in DNA to trap criminals, they realise our disease control system is foolproof.

“I am confident the international racing community will not stand by and allow nonequine-related trade issues be the downfall of the SA racing industry.

“Let’s not beat about the bush here. Without immediate intervention, the resulting implosion of SA thoroughbred breeding will result in the overall collapse of the entire SA horse racing industry, leading to devastating job losses and massive loss to the GDP. Right now, the industry contributes just over R2.5bn to the GDP and has the potential to grow at a 50% growth rate should the EU markets be reopened,” said Todd.

“As Lee Scribante, chair of the Thoroughbred Breeders Association, has said: ‘The sustainability of the industry is only possible if SA can fairly trade internationally.’

“I don’t want to appear too dramatic, but I believe if we don’t get it right this time, we can forget about it for a generation.”