Stop Coggins Slaughter

  • by: Tatjana Boxhorn
  • target: The Legislative Assembly of Alberta in Legislature Assembled, Horse Indstry Leaders, Equine Canada, All Horse owners and lovers

The chances your horse is going to die from Equine Infectious Anemia (EIA) are slim and none.  The chances your horse is going to die from a Coggins test are very good. Why? Because of the present "Test and Destroy" policy in place based on research from 1973 some 40 years ago and enforced by the Canadian Food Inspection Agency - CFIA.

Ask the CFIA how many horses die from EIA and the answer is "we don’t have any idea." Yet it is a federally reportable disease, which provides the CFIA the opportunity to adopt a quarantine or euthanize (slaughter) means to eradicate the disease. And the CFIA is doing just that---quarantining and killing useful, apparently healthy horses which test positive for EIA. Has there been eradication of the disease over the last 40 years? Of course not! Why? Money! Is there an EIA epidemic? No. Is the disease easily transmitted? No.

The CFIA website states that participation in the program is voluntary but if EIA is such a deadly threat why is it not mandatory for all horse owners to test their horses on a yearly basis for EIA? The argument that quarantine and slaughter can eradicate the disease makes absolutely no sense when you consider there is no effort to test all horses. Only about 17% of Canadian horses are tested, so the program cannot possible work. To advocate such a program only testifies to the ignorance which drives it. Yet Canada does not conduct any research and there are no research facilities anywhere in Canada. The quarantine and slaughter is the fear campaign which keeps the discriminatory testing mandatory if one horse is found positive and keeps the money flowing into the pockets of veterinarians and testing laboratories. It is time for politicians to be accountable for the emotional and financial losses they are causing. Whether the positive horse is an expensive show horse or a backyard 4-H project horse, it is disheartening to lose a horse to EIA.

The time has come to make the desperatley needed changes to the present "Test and Destroy" policy. For detailed and up to date information please go to Help and support us to get the desperately needed changes to the present test and destroy policy by signing our petition.

Horse owners, you’d better start riding today; as one of these days your horse could be marked for death--COGGINS POSITIVE.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

I am writing this letter to you today to raise awareness and support for the EIA positive tested horses, to get answers and to ask for legislative changes that need to be made on the present policy “Test and destroy”.  The horse community, veterinarians and the Canadian Food Inspection Agency – short CFIA – alike need to be educated more when it comes to EIA as there is so much fear, misinformation and lack of knowledge about this “disease” which is completely unjustified.

You were voted into office by the people for the people. Therefore I am asking you today as a voter to support us in making the desperately needed changes to the present “test and destroy” policy which is based on research from 1973, some 40 years ago. Most horse owners, veterinarians, CFIA employees and people most likely like yourself, are not aware of the “test and destroy” policy in place resp. the facts outlined below. We will do anything we can to raise awareness of this; we will give the innocent tested EIA positive horse a voice.

So we are asking for the facts on EIA: 

1. How many acute cases of EIA are there each year? How many horses die annually from EIA? Please provide information on this for the past 10 years.  

2. What does the CFIA determine is the threat to the horse population from EIA?  

3. If there is no proof an "inapparent carrier" can infect another horse, why kill a healthy, useful horse?  

4. If we stop killing or quarantining "inapparent carriers," what will be the projected increase in EIA deaths?  

5. How many horses were euthanized for having tested positive? How many were quarantined?  

6. What is the total horse population of Canada? We found different source for this showing up to 8.9 million horses in Canada. Is this correct?  

7. What does Canada determine is the threat to the horse population from EIA?

8. What is Canada’s budget for the testing and enforcement of EIA actions? How many employees involved?  

9. How much does Canada spend to eradicate the horse fly which transmits the disease? What measures are taken and who is involved (what providences and where)?

10. Wouldn’t it be more effective and less costly in dollars and horses’ lives to simply take a temperature reading on horses crossing providence lines or entering public horse areas?

11. Does Canada have any prevention program in place other than test and destroy?

"Fear of the unknown is the worst fear of all and the most difficult to dispel". Given the fear, misinformation, lack of knowledge, limited statistics and current policy; human nature is to panic. We were no exception to this; reality however shows that when you are educated about something, you aren’t afraid of it and we have educated ourselves regarding this disease in depth as the CFIA was not able to answer any of our questions outlined above.

Following is what we found:

EIA History

Equine Infectious Anemia is a disease that infects horses (ponies, mules and donkeys) on every continent where horses are present.  Although not officially recognized and named until 1843, every indication is that the disease has been present as long as horses, as we know them today, have been in existence. This disease has historically been self-limiting and in North America even in unmanaged herds, under natural conditions, has never been shown to have particularly devastating effects.

Test and  Destroy, Past and Present

From the mid '60's to the mid '80's a considerable amount of research was done on this particular lentivirus in the USA. Much can be learned about the disease from studying the reports of some of the leading researchers, such as Dr. Kittleson,  Dr. Tashjian,  Dr. McConnell,  Dr. Crawford and Dr. Issel.

In 1971 Dr. Leroy Coggins applied for and received a patent that gave him legal control over the use of (and the right to collect royalties on) an agar gel immunodiffusion  (AGID) test which he had adapted to detect the presence of antibodies for EIA. This adaptation later became known as the "Coggins" test.

In 1972 the US Department of Agriculture, because of various influences, decided to embark upon a "test and destroy" regulatory policy for the control of EIA. The newly patented Coggins test would be put to use to identify reactor horses. Canada's Department of Agriculture was quick to follow suit. These "test and destroy" policies have been in effect in one form or another ever since. This line of thinking continued in spite of the fact that in a 1978 "Reappraisal of EIA", a vast majority of the researchers, active at that time, said that because of later discoveries they could not support the use of the Coggins test in this type of a regulatory policy. The Coggins test was apparently firmly entrenched in the bureaucracy of our governments by that time because they chose to ignore the advice of the scientists who studied and researched this disease. 

Both the US and Canadian governments continued to support and even encourage the use of the Coggins test in defiance of the only group of people that had a thorough understanding of the disease, its effects and its transmissibility.

Since 1972 the Health of Animals division of the Canadian Department of Agriculture (currently known as the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA)) has enforced various forms of a "test and slaughter" policy. The Coggins test is used to screen populations of healthy horses in an attempt to single out and kill the ones that have EIA antibodies in their blood. (The regulatory officials insist that there is a quarantine option but a study of that option reveals that it is there simply to satisfy the legal implications of the forced destruction of private property.) We have not been able to locate anyone in the horse industry, or the government bureaucracy, who remembers exactly why the control regulations were put in place back in 1972 but we assume it had something to do with the fear of the disease being propagated by the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) at that time, through the circulation of information including an extremely graphic and extremely misleading film. Research completed during the 1970's and 1980's proved much of the information circulated by our governments in the early 1970's to be incorrect but to this day many people have not been able to erase this misinformation from their minds. Many of these people hold positions of authority and are respected by the equine community.  Some of these people have been guilty of passing this false information on to others.  We continue to see newspapers and other publications printing misleading and in some cases totally false statements made by people that, by this time, should know better.

The policy currently being enforced by the CFIA requires that any horse showing a positive reaction on a Coggins test will be destroyed or permanently quarantined. It also states that all horses on the same premises or in contact with a positive reactor within the previous thirty days shall, by law, be presented for a Coggins test as well. Incidentally, the Canadian regulations for permanent quarantine are so absurd that we are quite confident that all positive reactors will be destroyed.

We don’t think for a minute that it is purely coincidental that EIA was perceived as a problem in certain areas at approximately the same time that injectable antibiotics were becoming popular among some horse owners. Several of the “outbreaks” during the 1940’s, ‘50’s and 60’s were the direct result of the use a common hypodermic needle amongst multiple horses and many other “outbreaks” have had suspiciously similar circumstances. It is reasonable to think that high insect vector numbers and long insect seasons play a part in the incidence of the disease in some areas but it is doubtful that this was ever the case in Canada.

There is nothing new about this disease and it is very likely that it has infected horses in North America since the arrival of the Spanish horses on this continent more than 500 years ago. Although there has been some speculation on the subject, we have not seen any research to indicate that the EIAV or any of its various strains or mutations is any more virulent or persistent now than it ever was. Historically, this has been a self-limiting disease. The natural occurrence of EIA in North America has never been responsible for the devastation in horse herds that the current test and destroy policies have produced. The term “Equine Infectious Anemia” might only date back 169 years but the common term “Swamp Fever” goes back much further.

Our parents and grandparents as well as many of our aunts and uncles were directly involved in farming with horses in Canada and the US during the first half of the 20th century. At that time the horse population was considerably greater than today, exceeding 10 horses per square mile in most areas, in other words thousands of times denser over the entire country than what we see today. Many of these horses comingled on a daily or weekly basis, eg. school, shopping, marketing, social activities etc. Most of the horse owners of that era were aware that Swamp Fever existed but it did not produce the fear and dread that was generated in more recent times by the use of the Coggins test. If this virus was as contagious and as deadly as some people would have you believe, it would have had a serious impact on the horse population at that time. In truth the natural occurrence of EIA in Canada was of virtually no significance to the horse owners before the advent of the Coggins based regulatory policy in the early 1970’s.

A positive Coggins test is many times more deadly than EIA itself. Estimates suggest that when left in a natural state, the disease would kill 1 out of every 20,000 horses but "test and destroy" has killed as many as 600 out of every 20,000 subjected to it.

Based on all the information we have researched over the last weeks we feel there are too many unanswered questions to destroy subclinical horses. Because the disease has always been self-limiting is there perhaps a genetic factor that helps control the virus?

Too bad we sacrificed those thousands upon thousands of healthy asymptomatic horses in a misguided attempt to eradicate or control an infection that was not properly understood. From now on we should be concentrating on preserving the genetics of the horses whose immune systems are able naturally to control repeated attacks of this virus for which we have no artificial immunization or treatment available.

So if we understand the current literature correctly, it would appear that the researchers are still struggling to understand exactly how a horse’s immune system reacts so as to withstand the challenge of an EIA infection. Interesting that 40 years ago our governing bodies felt they knew enough about it to embark upon a test and slaughter program promoted to eradicate the disease in the US and Canada. When it became obvious that eradication was impossible by that method, against the advice of the majority of researchers and in the face of massive public opposition, they pressed blindly onward. Only now they called it a control program.

Many thousands of horses have been sacrificed causing extreme emotional distress and in many cases tremendous financial hardship.

Over the course of time it has often been suggested that perhaps a valuable lesson could be learned from the fact that foals nursing Coggins positive mares carried maternal antibodies in their bloodstream and virtually never became infected with EIA. It has also been suggested many times that perhaps asymptomatic Coggins positive horses might possibly maintain some immunity to future infections.

Whenever this was suggested to the regulatory people, they flatly denied the possibility on the grounds that since a lentivirus was capable of mutating, the horse’s immune system would not be able to recognize the new identity, the antibodies it carried would be of no use, and therefore the horse would become re-infected.

It would appear from the research in the last ten years that time and money would have been better spent studying the asymptomatic horses rather than destroying them. Or if no one was interested in studying them, at least let them live and pass on their genetics to future generations. If we are determined not to control this virus by artificial means, then we should perhaps step out of the way and let nature control it as was the case in the previous five hundred or more years.

We learned that Infected does not mean Infectious

1. Equine Infectious Anemia (EIA) is not a threat.
EIA is so insignificant the CFIA has no record of annual deaths. The CFIA claims .03% of the Canadian horse population is infected. If there are 8.9 million horses (according to different statistical websites), then 267,000 should be diseased. (It is a fact 95% never show symptoms and are never sick and do not infect other horses, so .05% could be seriously ill. If that were true, then 13.350 horses would die of EIA each year in Canada. But that is not happening. And the present quarantine/slaughter program does not protect healthy horses from anything.  

2. There is an effective vaccine
Dr. Roger Lloyd, a zoologist in Jacksonville, FL., is a member of the governing board of the American Chinese Veterinary Medical Frontiers, Inc., a corporation which has brought the EIA vaccine to the US for testing. According to Dr. Lloyd, preliminary tests run in China have demonstrated the vaccine to be effective against the North American strain of EIA as well as the virulent Chinese strain. We could be using the vaccine in Canada and in the USA if permitted. Why aren’t we?  

3. There is a better way to protect horses against EIA
Take a horse’s temperature before he is shipped across providence lines, or enters a show grounds, rack track or public horse facility. If the horse’s temperature is normal, he isn’t suffering from EIA, strangles, flu, Rhinopheumonitis or Potomac Horse Fever. The horse with a normal temperature is much safer around other horses than a horse with a negative Coggins test. The Coggins test is only good for 15 seconds. After the blood is drawn, the horse can get infected anytime. Of course, if he does, he’ll run a temperature. So let’s stop the tragic waste of quarantining or slaughtering hearty, useful, loving horses. Say, "no" to a senseless, discrimating program. Test for EIA. Euthanize acutely ill horses. Save the hearty, useful horses.

As responsible horse owners we feel that it is up to every horse owner to push for further investigation and research, and stand totally against the destruction of animals based solely on the presence of antibodies in that animal's bloodstream.

WE BELIEVE IN A CONTROL PROGRAM, but not one that kills apparently healthy horses indiscriminately.

In order to change this barbaric approach to the handling of the EIA situation in Canada, or the world for that matter, we suggest to every horse owner:

- read every piece of research information you can get your hands on,
- make your opinion known to the people in the positions to make decisions, and ask for a list of documented research that they have based these decisions on; after all it is their responsibility to gather and consider all the information so that truly informed decisions can be reached.
- People in positions of authority must be sadly indifferent if they do not avail themselves of all the facts before issuing a death warrant for an innocent asymtomatic horse.
- boycott shows requiring a negative test until the policies are changed,
- make other horsepeople including show management aware that there could be alternatives, but only if we are prepared to insist.
- the time for complacency is over.

Perhaps if the policies were changed to remove the death sentence for the asymptomatic horse, it would be easier to educate horsepeople on the signs of the acute and sub-acute horse, and the importance of checking out all sick horses including the "poor doers". Perhaps if the stigma were removed from the AGID Positive asymptomatic horse, you would see more of the horse population tested voluntarily and thereby achieve better overall control of the disease.

We looked up the word “outbreak” in the dictionary; it is defined as “a sudden occurrence”. There is nothing “sudden” about the existence of the EIA virus in the approximately 19 million untested horses in North America. These instances could more accurately be described as an “outbreak” of Coggins Testing. We consider the continued use of the word “outbreak” to describe the natural occurrence of this virus in previously untested horses to be a deliberate attempt to instill fear in the minds of uninformed horse owners.

If there are better methods of dealing with this disease, why does our government continue to support such a primitive disease control program?

We have found the following and hopefully the quotes and excerpts following will shed some light on the political nature of the Coggins test and our current regulatory policies. (It is an accepted fact that since the U.S. is Canada's major trading partner and because of the necessity of reasonably unrestricted movement of horses across the international boundary, Canada is prepared to accept whatever policy the U.S. adopts for the control of this disease.)

Dr. Stewart McConnell states; “The control of EIA rather than its eradication has been a losing battle for a long time. I can only assume that big money is at the root of our programs in effect at this moment.

There are many horses that are AGID (Coggins) positive yet are not viremic as indicated by the siderocyte test and if my reading and interpretation of current literature is correct, also by the lack of reverse transcriptase (Rtase) in blood of EIA positive horses.  A recent article published from the group at North Carolina Veterinary College compares the levels of Rtase in AGID positive (asymptomatic) horses versus experimentally infected horses.  As I remember the article, AGID positive horses, some infected 9 years earlier, were negative for Rtase in blood byproducts. This suggests that no circulating EIA virus was present therefor no transmission would occur, via the insect bite or via the "dirty needle syndrome".

Why is it that of all the lentivirus infections of man and animal, ONLY EIA is quarantinable and subject to test and slaughter techniques?  EIA does not infect other animal species including man.  Neither does feline immunodiffiency virus (FIV), bovine (BIV), simian (SIV), human (HIV), or the sheep and goat viruses.  All the lentiviruses cause diseases and death in animals infected, but none are treated with heavy hand of Government except EIA.

If we could get the politics out of disease control, we could solve the problems faster and cheaper.  We would also have better cooperation from all segments of the industry.

The following are excerpts from a letter written by Dr. Roger Lloyd of Florida to Senator Edward M. Kennedy dated Sept. 3, 1998:

There is and has been a "behind the scenes" struggle going on in this country.  As you know, most scientific research is above board, straight forward and open to public scrutiny.  The one that I refer to here has clearly not taken the "high road". Perhaps by design, neglect, or even some clandestine de-advertising, this project has repeatedly fallen through the cracks.

Our multi-agency inflexible government has stalled the process, challenged the credibility, tried on two occasions to quietly hire the Chinese originators and secure the vaccine for sequencing without proper patent protection or scientific recognition. There has been detracting agency in-fighting, poor scientific leadership at our highest levels in the NIH and NIAID, and finally a strange unwarranted security cloak was imposed.

The western world's attempt at cloning, sequencing and molecular manipulation of retroviruses has been at best an expensive disappointment. I am sure Senator Kennedy you are aware that the U.S. alone has spent decades of years and billions of dollars attempting to produce effective vaccines for the lentiviruses EIA, FIV, SIV, and HIV. Neither talent nor money has been spared in this endeavor. Today, late in 1998, except for The Peoples Republic of China EIA vaccine, we have not succeeded. We need to examine the vaccine and determine what makes it effective.

The following statements come from the American Chinese Veterinary Medical Frontiers, Inc. report issued in April of 1999:

EIA is not just another animal disease, but has a huge background of intrigue, politics, New York society, state and national government involvement.  EIA can also serve as a significant bridge for international scientific relations with China joining together with America to solve the problems of AIDS and EIA, including civilian and military scientific participation.  This program should have been implemented in 1983, not 1999.  What a tragic waste of human and animal lives, where health and quality of life should have had first priority over personal agendas.

In 1972 Dr. Leroy Coggins who was on the faculty of Cornell University, School of Veterinary Medicine at that time, reported on a diagnostic test for EIA.  It is an immunological test which is an immunodiffusion test, a test for antibody in the blood. The test was accepted by the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) as the official USDA diagnostic test for EIA, and become nationally and internationally known as the "Coggins Test".

A huge controversy developed in the United States and Canada once this test became national and state regulatory policy, since the test detected many horses that were asymptomatic and not showing any signs of disease. This created serious powerful reactions against the policy by horse owners throughout the country since a test and slaughter or a test and isolation policy for all horses including pet horses such as 4-H horses was not an easy policy for horse owners to accept. This program has become a significant financial benefit for those who participate in the controlled testing of these horses.

It is tragic that thousands of horses have been killed or isolated in Canada, the United States and other parts of the world creating serious emotional and financial losses to the horse owners since there was a very real alternative by collaborating with China to control the disease nationally and internationally by a vaccination program rather than death being the ultimate segregation tool.  It is unfortunate that the Coggins test resulted in this method of control.

These horses should not have been sacrificed, since we have the capability of biologically cloning the live attenuated EIA vaccine to bring it to the standards of modern molecular biology. The scientists knew that fact years ago, but ego, jealousy, fame, and money seemed to have a greater priority.  The EIA testing and slaughter program in Canada and the United States is a huge multi-million dollar industry.

From 1983 to 1993, it was almost impossible to raise funds and support for this EIA project especially with such a background of criticism and influence that occurred in Canada and the United States. Furthermore, the emphasis was on genetically engineered vaccines for AIDS and there seemed little interest to focus upon a live attenuated vaccine that was reported to the world in 1983, and to the critics; horses, veterinarians, and Chinese scientists did not give the image of cutting edge technology. The insiders and the scientific policy makers failed to understand that creativity and imagination can solve problems that even the most costly and technical equipment cannot solve if the concomitant problems and challenges are not included in the evaluation.

We are including here a link to the American Veterinary Medical Frontiers, Inc. web site. This is the privately owned EIA research facility in Massachusetts, operated by Dr. Robert Tashjian, a scientist with more than 40 years of EIA research experience and definitely one of the leading experts on the subject of EIAV infections and EIAV immunities. Please take the time to follow the links near the bottom of the home page to learn what has taken place there during the past two years. It appears to us that the decisions made in the case of the ponies Prince and Nora were based on what we would have to consider to be politics rather than science.

The link is   Perhaps this isn’t close to where we are, but decisions like this could eventually affect all of us.

In the interest of conserving space, we will not go any further at this time but this bit is probably enough to indicate to most people that there are some aspects of this disease control program that are not necessarily based on scientific fact. It appears that the only way that we can be sure to get a modern vaccination program for EIA in our horses and also for HIV in our families is if the general public will insist to our government that we will settle for nothing.

In closing we hope that we have made some valid points for you to    urge the CFIA to consider making some needed changes to the law at hand for all the innocent horses out there. We are willing to work with the governing bodies to make those changes. We are certain that the equine community would support changes to the present law.

Sadly to say we know of a 12 year old girl that had to have her beloved healthy horse euthanized by the CFIA and we are wondering how many horses have been put to death simply because they got back a positive "Coggins" test. We have done the research on the SID test and believe this test should be an integral part of the rules and guidelines set forth by the CFIA if any horse tests positive on the Coggins test. That way the horse owner has peace of mind and can at least say that all available resources were utilized before making the difficult decision of maybe having to euthanize the animal in question.

Please note that we will give all equines a voice; we will not just stand by and watch healthy horses getting euthanized without being 100% certain that they are contagious and therefore have no other alternatives. We appreciate your support and look forward to hearing from you and getting all of our questions answered.

Tatjana M. Boxhorn
Owner of Equine City

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