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NAS hosts information session about inspection study



The National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine (NAS) hosted its first meeting Wednesday Oct. 16 to unveil details regarding its upcoming study to review the methods for detecting soreness in horses. 

Representatives of NAS, the committee overseeing the study, as well as the USDA spoke during the meeting, which was open to the public for the first hour and began at 10 a.m. 

“We want your expertise to bring together (methods) that both the industry and USDA can point to and rely on,” said Carrie Ricci on behalf of the USDA, adding her belief that the USDA and industry have worked well together in recent years, however the subjectivity of the process remains a challenge. “That is why we came to NAS, in a nutshell.”

Dozens of folks from the horse industry called or logged in to listen in on the meeting, although public commentary was not permitted unless it was emailed in advance or submitted via the teleconference chat box.

A link to the full transcript of the meeting can be found here.

The well-structured agenda included a clear outline of the study and its purpose and kicked off with comments from committee chair Jerry Black, followed by a quick overview of the study by Camilla Ables, study director.

Black assured everyone in attendance that Wednesday’s meeting served as an information gathering session where no official conclusions would be made.

“It would be a mistake to think otherwise,” he said, also acknowledging the fact that several committee members might ask “probing” questions as to caution listeners from taking anything said in the meeting out of context. 

Black also explained during his opening comments the process of the study’s review. He said the committee’s findings and recommendations will be rigorously overseen by the NAS; any conclusions made by the committee must be approved by the NAS before being considered official.

Comments from USDA representatives came from Ricci, Dr. Robert Gibbens and Dr. Aaron Rhyner with their focus touching on the context and expectations from the study. Ricci did a thorough job explaining what led to the request for NAS to partake in this study, mainly subjectivity within the inspection process.

She said it was extremely important to the USDA that scientific and reliable methods be used to determine whether or not a horse is sore. Ricci said it was the USDA’s intent to have NAS review and assess the inspection process as well as determine if and what changes might be needed.

At that point, Ricci said the next step would be figuring out how to adopt any changes or recommendations regarding the inspection process as well as the Horse Protection Act of which it falls under.

“We wanted to draw on your expertise  as a way to look at what recommendations would be most helpful to our program,” she said, emphasizing the USDA was seeking NAS input mainly for horse-related events such as horse shows. 

Ricci also expressed that the inspection process is overseen by the USDA, a government agency, and thus it was important that any solutions be cost-effective in nature. 

Tom Blankenship was on the agenda to represent the horse industry but his questions ultimately had to be delivered via another representative. Nonetheless, his questions were well-received by others who called in for the conference.

Blankenship asked the committee to consider allowing him to attend all future meetings and to be able to bring in person testimony with him from Dr. Paul Stromberg, Dr. Phil Hammock and Dr. Joe Bertone and the committee agreed to consider his questions.

At least 40 people called in to hear the conference and Celebration CEO Mike Inman was among them. Although he expressed disappointment with one statistic read during the meeting pertaining to the number of horses found to be sore during the 2016 Celebration, which he said was inaccurate, but in general, Inman was pleased with what he heard.

“The Celebration is pleased to see the move to developing scientific repeatable inspections,” Inman said. “Now we must observe how the process unfolds.”

Comments submitted by the public closed out the open portion of the meeting with a media representative reading them to the committee and most of these questions appeared to be typical stock-type questions from the Humane Society of the United States.

Participants of the meeting had to register in advance on the NAS website, which will be required for future meetings as well. 

The committee currently consists of Dr. Jerry Black, chair, Dr. Bart Sutherland, Dr. Tracy Turner, Dr. Pamela Ginn, Dr. Sarah le Jeune, Dr. Susan White and Robin Foster. The NAS had allowed a 20-day public comment on the appointment of the committee members, which ended Oct. 9. 

The open session of the meeting lasted about one hour, with a closed meeting following. Black emphasized there will be several more informational meetings to come and those will be announced in advance and will be held in locations that are central and convenient to horse industry representatives. 

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