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USDA Fact Sheet on Gas Chromatography Technology



(Copyright 2005) The Walking Horse Report received the following fact sheet from the USDA today. We encourage you to read it carefully.

USDA APHIS Animal Care’s Horse Protection program continues to collect samples from show horse limbs for testing and analysis using Gas Chromatography technology. As was introduced in five public meetings in 2004, findings indicating the presence of illegal foreign substances on horse limbs in 2005 will not be used to pursue federal prosecution or Horse Industry Organization penalties against any parties. Further testing and implementation of Gas Chromatography technology are planned for 2006.

Here is a fact sheet detailing technology’s role in current and future Horse Protection Act compliance:

Horse Protection

o The Horse Protection Act (HPA) is a Federal law that prohibits horses subjected to a practice called soring from participating in shows, sales, exhibitions or auctions. The Act, also prohibits drivers from transporting sored horses to or from any of these events. APHIS' Animal Care (AC) program has the responsibility for enforcing the HPA, which was passed in 1970 and amended in 1976.

o Soring is a cruel and inhumane practice used to accentuate a horse's gait. When a sored horse walks, it responds by quickly lifting its front legs high off of the ground in response to the pain in its lower legs and/or hooves. The HPA covers all horse breeds, but Tennessee walking horses, racking horses, and other high-stepping breeds are the most frequent victims of soring.

o Soring may be accomplished by irritating or blistering a horse's forelegs through the injection or application of chemicals or mechanical irritants, such as diesel fuel, lighter fluid, strong detergents, and mustard oil. Inhumane hoof trimming or pressure-shoeing techniques may also be used to create an accentuated gait.

o Criminal or civil charges can be brought against HPA violators. If convicted, criminal violators can spend up to 2 years in prison and receive penalties of up to $5,000. Civil complaints, imposed through administrative procedures, can result in disqualifications of one or more years and penalties of up to $2,000 or more per violation.

o APHIS inspection teams attend horse shows and auctions, to conduct unannounced inspections of horses. All APHIS inspectors enforcing the HPA are veterinary medical officers (VMO). However, AC VMOs may also be accompanied by investigators from APHIS' Investigative and Enforces Services as well as security. VMOs observe horses during shows and may examine any horse for signs of soring.

o To enhance enforcement efforts, APHIS established the Designated Qualified Person (DQP) program, which enables USDA-accredited veterinarians with equine experience, farriers, horse trainers, and other knowledgeable horsemen who have been formally trained and licensed by USDA-certified Horse Industry Organizations (HIO) or associations to inspect horses for soring. Horse show or sale managers then contract with HIO's to provide DQPs for their horse events.

o The examination for soring consists of 3 components:

1. The evaluation of a horse's movements,

2. The observation of a horse's appearance,

3. The physical examination of a horse's forelegs.

o Sored horses may exhibit abnormal tissue damage, swelling, pain, abrasions, or oozing of blood or serum. Owners or trainers that sore horses, however, sometimes go to great lengths to conceal evidence of soring, making the practice difficult to detect in certain cases. For example, temporary numbing agents may be applied to a horse's forelegs so that it won't react during an examination by the attending VMO or DQP.

o In the spring of 2004, AC began testing the use of 2 new pieces of technology at horse shows to determine their usefulness as HPA enforcement tools.

o The first piece of equipment is Electronic Sensor Technology's zNose™ Model 4200, which is a handheld gas chromatograph or a chemical “sniffer”. Vapor samples are prepared by swabbing a horse's leg with a cotton swab, and then placing the cotton swab in an empty sample vial. Within 10 seconds, the zNose processes a vapor sample and determines the identity of chemicals in the vapor. This is useful in determining whether numbing or soring agents, have been used.

o The second piece of equipment is Mikron Infrared's MikroScan 7515. It is a lightweight, high-performance, hand-held thermographic camera. Thermographic imaging enables our VMOs to detect and evaluate heat patterns in horses' legs and feet with great accuracy. Research is being conducted within APHIS to determine how to best use this technology as an enforcement tool.

o To assist with testing, a considerable number of horse and stable vapor samples and equine limb thermal images were acquired and evaluated. While initial results are promising, this equipment is not being used for any type of enforcement at this time because AC is still in the process of gathering additional efficacy data.

o AC has assured HIO representatives that we will not in any way record technology information gathered at shows that could be used to identify horses or their exhibitors and owners. HIO's will be notified in writing before AC begins using either or both instruments as enforcement tools. The use of this equipment, however, does not preclude entrants being cited for foreign substance violations detected by sight, feel or odor.

o In 2004, the program held a series of free educational meetings to present the latest information on this new technology. Meeting locations included California, Kentucky, Missouri, Tennessee and Washington State.

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