An advocate for better equine tracing systems in Australia says the COVID-19 pandemic highlights how vital it is to quickly establish a national horse register.

Key points:

  • Advocate for better equine tracing systems says it’s imperative to be able to control horse diseases
  • Claims COVID-19 contact tracing systems could be adapted for a national horse register
  • Concerns the 2022 deadline for the national register won’t be met

Newcastle resident Juliana Waugh has been lobbying for a national horse register since her daughter was killed after falling from an ex-racehorse at a Dubbo TAFE in 2009.

She said it was taking too long for the register to be established.

In Australia, all states and territories require properties where horses are kept to have a Property Identification Code, but these codes do not translate into a system that identifies individual horses.

Sarah Waugh in her Jillaroo gear, just days before she was killed falling from a horse in 2009.

Sarah Waugh in her Jillaroo gear, just days before she was killed falling from a horse which had no information about its racing history in 2009 (

ABC

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A Senate inquiry in 2019 into the feasibility of establishing a National Horse Traceability Register lead to the creation of a working group last year.

The National Horse Traceability Working Group will consider and recommend a framework for a national system in Australia covering biosecurity and tracking in a variety of equine sectors including racing and agriculture.

It is also set to engage with owners of abattoirs and knackeries to integrate into a single register.

The working group is expected to provide recommendations to the national Agriculture Ministers Meeting in 2022.

Ms Waugh expressed concern that the group is not progressing quickly enough despite the 2022 timeline, and warned it leaves the equine industry vulnerable to disease and exploitation.

Two people in protective clothing medically check a sick horse covered in sheets

Vets were worried about a potential spike in Hendra virus cases for the winter of 2020.(

Supplied: NSW Primary Industries

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“We are living the example of how important traceability is when you’re trying to control any kind of emergency disease, whether it’s humans or animals,” Ms Waugh said.

“Australia’s national herd, the horses, are a sitting duck for a disease that might arrive on our shores.”

Major tracing already in action

Ms Waugh said Australia’s free COVID-19 contact tracing systems such as the COVIDSafe app and QR codes could be adapted for a national horse register.

A mother and father hold up a photo of their daughter.

Mark and Juliana Waugh have been advocating for safety improvements in the equine sector for almost a decade after their daughter, Sarah, was killed by falling off a horse.(

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“We need to get tech companies in there now to put forward to the working group models.

“Having a National Traceability Register for the first time would help connect our far-flung various sectors of the horse industry, and that would allow them to grow, be protected, and be seen by the government so they get funding for all sorts of things.”

Working Group ‘trotting along’

The National Horse Traceability Working Group met for the first time in October 2020.

It has met four times since, including two face to face meetings.

Several horses walking through livestock yards.

A National Horse Register would also tie in with knackeries to help deter mass slaughter and abuse of racehorses.(

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It is investigating what a national horse register will look like in Australia, taking into consideration work done overseas and lessons learnt from other traceability systems in Australia.

“Victoria is taking a leading role alongside Queensland in providing support to the National Horse Traceability Working Group.”

“Our key priority is working towards a national horse traceability system in Australia. We understand the importance for this in the industry and the need for an effective traceability system for all horses.”

A horse is held by a man wearing black clothes as two men in blue shirts watch on

A national horse register would help buyers better understand individual horses’ histories.(

ABC News: Patrick Galloway

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The Group is chaired independently by Stuart McLean OAM.

Membership includes representatives from across the horse industry, such as Animal Health Australia, the Australian Horse Industry Council, Harness Racing Australia, Racing Australia, Equestrian Australia and the RSPCA, as well as Commonwealth and state and territory governments.

Calls for COVID-19 tracing models to help horses
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