Thursday 9th September 2021

New Formal Arrangements for Equine Infectious Disease Service

The Horserace Betting Levy Board (HBLB) has announced the implementation of key steps towards re-establishing on a long-term basis the essential equine infectious disease surveillance provision that had been performed by the Animal Health Trust (AHT) until its closure in July 2020.

Acting on the recommendations of an industry-wide committee set up to assess options for the future, HBLB has concluded an agreement from August 2021 with Rossdales Ltd to provide the diagnostic microbiology testing capacity, arrangements that will work in conjunction with the epidemiological surveillance and monitoring unit that will now be based at the University of Cambridge Veterinary School.

Since the closure of the AHT, the surveillance services have been provided by the former AHT team headed by Dr Richard Newton on a temporary basis under contract to the British Horseracing Authority (BHA). This team will be employed by Cambridge University under the new agreement and will continue to respond to disease outbreak incidents and to produce daily updates on infectious disease reports worldwide for the benefit of the health of all horses, Thoroughbred and non-Thoroughbred.  

Over the past year, diagnostics have been available to Dr Newton’s team on an ad hoc basis from Rossdales Ltd, and funded by HBLB.  Full coverage has therefore been maintained, meaning that the team was able to respond promptly and effectively to any incidents of disease.  

The new arrangements will span an interim period of at least two years while options for the longer term are considered and developed.

Funding will be provided, as previously, by HBLB, racehorse owners and the Thoroughbred Breeders’ Association (TBA). Discussions are also being held with the sport and leisure horse interests regarding potential contributions in the future.

In addition, HBLB has formed a representative oversight committee, with HBLB Government Appointed Member Anne Lambert as its chair. The membership will include representatives from HBLB’s Veterinary Advisory Committee, the TBA, the Racehorse Owners Association, the BHA and the non-Thoroughbred sport and leisure sectors. This committee will have responsibility for monitoring the service in its initial phase and for designing plans for future, with the paramount objective of safeguarding the national herd. Full engagement between the Thoroughbred and non-Thoroughbred sectors in respect of infectious disease management will underpin the work which includes the development of an epidemic risk management plan.

Alan Delmonte, Chief Executive of HBLB, said: “This is an important milestone in putting in place successor arrangements to the services that had been carried out by the Animal Health Trust for a long time. A full evaluation of the current situation and the equine sector’s requirements took place including through a tender process that was announced by BHA in 2020. Substantial work has been done by Stephen Atkin, who was retained to act as project manager of this complex area that has taken many months to consider. As well as now engaging the widely recognised expertise of Rossdales, it will be welcomed that it has been possible to retain the previous AHT team headed by Dr Richard Newton. All in the equine sector are grateful to them for continuing to provide disease monitoring coverage and reaction to outbreaks given the challenging circumstances of the past year.”

Dr Alastair Foote, director of Rossdales Laboratories, added: “We are delighted to have been awarded the tender, and to be able to provide continuity of the former AHT services that were critical to the equine industry, maintaining essential diagnostic testing and surveillance work.  Our recent major investment in new laboratory facilities at our Newmarket site has meant we have been able to rapidly accommodate the required testing requirements, with new tissue culture and virus isolation facilities, and we look forward to working alongside the surveillance and research team at Cambridge.”

For further information, please contact HBLB Grants Manager Annie Dodd on 07785 390922