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Equine Winter 2006 (Vol 1, No 4)

News Bits (Winter 2006)

    Morris Animal Foundation to Raise $2.5 Million for Consortium to Study Equine Diseases

    Morris Animal Foundation (MAF) will provide funding to the University of Minnesota's College of Veterinary Medicine for the first-ever Equine Consortium for Genetic Research grant, which will bring together the world's best researchers to improve equine health. The consortium grant will be led by University of Minnesota professors Jim Mickelson and Stephanie Valberg. The University of Minnesota was identified as the lead institution based on 27 applications reviewed by MAF. Thirty-two scientists from 18 elite academic institutions throughout nine countries collaborated on the development of the grant proposal.

    The Equine Consortium for Genetic Research hopes to greatly enhance the ability of scientists to study genetic processes contributing to high-priority equine diseases and enhance knowledge regarding normal cellular processes governing equine biology. The National Institutes of Health recently awarded funding to a research team led by scientists at the Broad Institute at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology to pursue the Healthy Horse Genome Sequencing Program, which will sequence the genome of the domestic horse, Equus caballus, along with seven horse breeds. The Broad Institute is also collaborating on the Equine Consortium for Genetic Research. Researchers from the consortium will use the sequenced horse genome to study and identify genes and mutations that contribute to heritable diseases such as musculoskeletal disease, laminitis, recurrent airway obstruction, and bone disease.

    "This project will benefit the entire horse industry, offer new diagnostic and therapeutic approaches to reduce animal suffering, and promote equine health and welfare," says Jim Mickelson, consortium director. "We will be able to do for the horse what we already can do for human and canine research."

    "With these great minds working together, we hope to make significant advances in equine health and welfare," says Dr. Patricia N. Olson, MAF president and CEO. "Genetic diseases affect horses from every breed, so this project has tremendous potential for preventing and treating diseases with heritable risk factors."

    For more information, call 800-243-2345 or go online to www.MorrisAnimalFoundation.org.

    Horse Deaths Not Related to Feed

    In mid-July, more than two dozen horses died suddenly at a stable in Brazos County, Texas. Considerable misinformation was disseminated during testing to determine the cause. The initial diagnosis of phosphine poisoning resulting from on-farm pesticide application remains the apparent cause of death. Further diagnostic testing revealed no evidence of specific abnormalities indicative of other intoxication in the examined horses. The findings reconfirm Texas A&M's initial report that the Purina Mills Strategy bulk feed delivered to the farm was not a causative factor in the deaths.

    Barbara Injury Highlights Need for Laminitis Research Funding

    Ten million dollars in equine research funding is needed to unlock the mysteries of laminitis, according to the American Association of Equine Practitioners (AAEP) Foundation, Inc. The life-threatening injury to Kentucky Derby winner Barbaro and the subsequent development of laminitis in the horse's hind foot has highlighted the prevalence and severity of the disease.

    Members of the AAEP have identified laminitis as a high priority for future research. To advance this effort, the AAEP Foundation has developed a paper on the challenges of treating laminitis and the need for increased research funding. The article is entitled "Barbaro Injury Highlights Need for Laminitis Research Funding" and is available online at www.aaep.org/laminitisresearchfunding. The author, Rustin M. Moore, DVM, is a member of the AAEP, director of the Louisiana State University Equine Health Studies Program, and a member of the Compendium: Equine Edition Editorial Board.

    To learn more about laminitis, funding opportunities, or current research, contact Keith Kleine, AAEP director of industry relations, by email at kkleine@aaep.org or by phone at 859-233-0147.

    House Votes to Ban Horse Slaughter for Food

    In response to appeals to protect horses, the US House of Representatives has voted to ban the slaughter of horses for food, potentially saving 90,000 animals a year from becoming food for foreign diners. Lawmakers passed the bill over the opposition of farm and meat industry groups as well as the USDA. Foes say the bill ignores the realities of dealing with unwanted horses. Bill backers say the Senate may consider the bill by the end of 2006.

    "This is a piece of legislation that is long overdue," said sponsor John Sweeney (NY-D), tracing efforts back to 1979. He decried horses being killed so their meat can be sold "as a delicacy, not a necessity."

    Three foreign-owned packing plants—two in Texas and one in Illinois—butcher horses for meat that is exported to Europe. In 2005, Congress cut off funding for USDA inspection of horse slaughter, but the plants stayed in business by paying for federal inspectors.

    Proponents of the ban say horses are considered intelligent companions and long-lived workmates that should not be subjected to gruesome death in slaughterhouses. Approximately 90,000 horses per year are sent to packing plants.

    "They [the proponents] are arguing about what happens to the meat" but not assuring horse welfare, says House Agriculture Committee Chairman Bob Goodlatte (VA-R). If owners cannot sell unwanted horses, said Goodlatte, the horses will be abandoned or "put down" in a pasture or behind a barn, possibly by haphazard methods. It would cost more than $50 million per year if the government took care of them, said the Congressional Budget Office.

    Commerce Committee Chairman Joe Barton (TX-R) says the bill is "an outright attack on animal agriculture."

    The cattle group R-CALF USA says the bill interferes with the rights of horse owners. "We don't need another layer of federal bureaucracy to intrude on our daily business decisions," says R-CALF President Chuck Kiker.

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