A WAR of words has broken out between the State Government and Opposition following concerns from veterinarians about treating ill horses of unknown Hendra status.
Shadow Agriculture Minister Deb Frecklington has called on Treasurer and Industrial Relations Minister Curtis Pitt to convene an urgent roundtable on Hendra virus following concerns from vets and horse owners.
Mrs Frecklington said recent prosecutions under workplace health and safety laws had left many Queensland vets reluctant to treat horses not vaccinated for Hendra.
“Prosecutions by the state government have led to confusion and a lot of concern among horse owners and vets,” Mrs Frecklington said.
But Minister for Agriculture Bill Byrne said while the Department of Agriculture recommended the vaccination of horses against Hendra, ultimately, it was a decision for horse owners.
“The government does not have the regulatory power to force vets to attend to ill horses,” Mr Byrne said. “The government does not mandate that the vaccine must be administered to horses.
"My department has been in discussions with vets and horse owners and associations for a number of months.
“There is a concern among horse owners and vets about the attendance to ill horses of unknown Hendra status.
“Some vets will not treat horses that have not been vaccinated against Hendra.”
Mrs Frecklington said comments that vets were neglecting their obligations to treat horses and colluding with a multi-national chemical company to force owners to vaccinate for Hendra were ridiculous and unhelpful.
She said the impasse had come about because several court cases instigated by the state government meant vets now feared prosecution if they visited properties to help owners treat horses that later tested positive to Hendra.
“There’s confusion and concern among horse owners and vets about where everyone stands and the government needs to show leadership,” she said.
The uptake of the Hendra vaccine, sold in Australia by Zoetis, is unknown, however, its believed the majority of the doses available are being used in Queensland.
“The vaccine is routinely described as the single most effective way of reducing the risk of infection in horses, and therefore people,” Zoetis’ Dr Richard L’Estrange said.
“Owners should consult their veterinarian on price, but in most places a dose is similar to the cost of a shoeing."
Mr Byrne said Biosecurity Queensland recommended veterinarians seek advice from specialist personal protective equipment trainers and use appropriate equipment to mitigate the risk of infection from sick animals.
“Veterinarians must ensure good biosecurity and hygiene practices when working with all sick animals,” Mr Byrne said.
“This includes consideration of the use of appropriate personal protective equipment when working with horses, including those suspected of being infected with Hendra virus.”
Fairfax Media contacted both Zoetis and the Department to confirm the number of horses being vaccinated but that they were unable to respond to the request.