Horse owners will buck at Hendra levy, says vet

The horse industry has bucked at a stud owner’s call for a levy to fund Hendra virus research.

John Brady, the owner of the central Queensland horse stud at the centre of the most recent Hendra virus outbreak, says a $25 per horse levy imposed in Queensland would provide much-needed funding for research into the deadly disease and to develop a vaccine.
He says he’s lost $100,000 as a result of the outbreak which led to his property been quarantined for eight weeks.
Rockhampton veterinarian Dr Alister Rodgers died after treating horses on Mr Brady’s property.
But a vet at the centre of a previous outbreak says the worst effect of Hendra virus is its capacity to kill humans, and horse owners should not be asked to fund research into a disease passed from bats to horses to humans.
Dr David Lovell’s Redland Bay veterinary clinic was stricken by an outbreak of Hendra virus in August 2008, the disease crippling his business and killing vet Ben Cunneen.
While Dr Lovell backs a national levy for broader research into horses and their health, he says horse owners should not pay for Hendra research.
"I think a national levy for research in general is a thing that’s worthwhile, but Hendra virus is probably a very rare, very regional, very localised problem," he told AAP.
Dr Lovell said attempts over 20 years to levy horse owners had met with strong opposition.
Attempts to place a registration levy on all horses as a response to the equine influenza outbreak in 2007 met fierce opposition, he said.
He said Hendra virus was more a social issue than simply relating to the horse industry.
"This is a disease that kills humans and I think this (research) has to come from the public purse," he said.
"The number of horses that are actually affected with the disease is minimal.
"The issue is you cannot afford to have such a disease that affects humans so seriously."
He said the research was necessary because Hendra virus could evolve to affect all humans.
A vaccine for humans should be the priority, and a quick, portable test to determine whether a horse had Hendra virus should be developed, he said.
The mechanism whereby the disease passes from bats to horses should also be a critical area for research.
President of the Thoroughbred Breeders’ Queensland Association, Bob Frappell, says he doubts the practicality of a levy.
"I just doubt the practicality of it and whether the government has got the will to impose it against people’s wills because that is what it would take," he told ABC Radio.
Queensland Primary Industries Minister Tim Mulherin says such a levy would be a matter for the federal government.

By Steve Gray