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AHC Requests National Equine Survey
A prerequisite to the evaluation of animal health is to know the demographics of that industry. While the agriculture census enumerates livestock populations every 5 years, food and fiber animal numbers are more actively tracked by the National Agriculture Statistics Service (NASS), which estimates major livestock populations at least annually. Currently, collecting comprehensive demographics at regular intervals is not done for the equine industry. NASS, being the principle source for estimates of animal inventories in the U.S. maintains the best skill-set to fill this critical information gap.
For its five-year census the USDA generally defines a “farm” as any place from which $1,000 or more of agricultural products were, or normally would be, produced and sold during the census year. If a facility does not qualify by the sales criteria (as many facilities with horses do not) a point system is utilized. A place with pasture, no crop production, and no livestock inventory or sales would need five horses to be considered a farm under this definition, and many premises with fewer than five horses are excluded from the census data. Service-oriented places, such as racetracks and boarding facilities, are also excluded.
The exclusion of the non-farm horse population from the census data, which may be as many as several million head, clearly suggests the need to collect data on the entire equine population.
NASS is responsible for preparing and issuing current state and national estimates of crop and livestock production, disposition, and prices in the U.S. In December 2010, the AHC submitted comments to NASS supporting a national equine survey.
The AHC requested NASS undertake a national initiative to enumerate all equine in the U.S., regardless of their activity. The AHC believes a complete and comprehensive Equine Survey will provide accurate and useful statistics needed to ensure state, federal, and industry personnel are informed and equipped to address policy decisions, mitigate disease risk, and protect the health of our horses and the economic viability of the horse industry.
In November 2010, NASS solicited stakeholder input on the industry’s desire to undertake a national equine estimate beyond the general agricultural census conducted every five years.
The AHC submitted the below comments in support of NASS undertaking a national equine estimate.
A prerequisite to the evaluation of animal health is to know the demographics of that industry. While the agriculture census enumerates livestock populations every 5 years, food and fiber animal numbers are more actively tracked by NASS which estimates major livestock populations at least annually. Currently, collecting comprehensive demographics at regular intervals is not done for the equine industry. NASS, being the principle source for estimates of animal inventories in the U.S. maintains the best skill-set to fill this critical information gap.
USDA, State animal health officials, and industry have a responsibility to monitor and mitigate disease incidents shared by horses, other livestock, and humans. In order to appropriately fulfill this duty, USDA, States, and industry must have accurate and current information on horse demographics in order to position the appropriate staff and resources needed to respond to future disease outbreaks.
Horses have the longest life expectancy of livestock species (20–35 years) and interact with people more than any other livestock since they are used for recreation, competition, breeding, and entertainment. They are transported more often and for greater distances, participate in local, national, and international competitions, and often undergo numerous careers in their lifetime. As a result, no other livestock species moves more or has more interaction with the public than horses, and it makes demographic information about the industry very important in the case of disease outbreaks.
Horses play a potential role in zoonotic diseases, which is an animal disease that can also infect humans, and horses have the potential to transmit multiple diseases directly to humans and/or other livestock species. An outbreak of a zoonotic disease for which horses are a viral amplifier points out the need for USDA to be in a position to respond efficiently and effectively to such a threat in the U.S. USDA could play a pivotal role in supplying information on the location of equine populations and the number of doses of vaccine needed from pharmaceutical companies to prevent or stem a disease outbreak in this country.
Expansion of global trade and any potential regionalization efforts will require accurate information on the demographics of the U.S. horse population, and accurate equine population demographics will enable regulatory officials to dedicate the appropriate resources, at both the national staff and field levels, to address domestic and international equine health issues.
There has not yet been a formal response to AHC’s request for a national equine survey, and AHC stands ready to provide additional documentation supporting the need and importance of a complete national equine survey.
The AHC encouraged NASS to undertake a national equine survey. The AHC believes an accurate enumeration of equines in the U.S. is needed to ensure animal health officials and policy makers are accurately informed to address disease risk and protect the economic viability of the horse industry.