Necropsy Price Hikes: Debate Continues
Because of local restrictions on the burial of dead horses, the options for many Maryland owners, until recently, have been to send their horses’ bodies to a rendering plant, arrange for private cremations or send them to a laboratory that will necropsy them and then arrange for their disposal.
|Public Heath Concerns
To Steele, the rate hike seems an unfair burden. “They said they were going to raise everybody, but they didn’t,” he said. “They say the other forms of livestock [food animals] are subsidized because of mad cow disease,
avian influenza, and stuff like that. So they get their necropsies at what were once our normal prices. But you don’t do a tenfold increase overnight!”
The increased disposal prices don’t help, either. “Granted, I know fuel prices went up,” Steele said. “It’s one thing if a person says ‘My old horse who’s 30 years old died, and I want you to cremate him.’ But people in production agriculture who are raising horses for sale cannot afford to do that, and won’t do that.”
Steele thinks that the necropsy rate hike has public health ramifications, too, citing a case of equine rabies that was believed to be a toothache until a post-mortem proved otherwise. “People were all in its mouth, and this, that and the other,” he explained. “And if that horse hadn’t been ‘posted’ [necropsied], no one who had been around that animal would have known it was carrying rabies.”
He likened the situation to the need for policemen; since they are so vital to the public safety, he asserted, the bottom line shouldn’t be a factor. “I don’t cry so much that they’re doing it at a loss; they’re providing a service in order to get something, information on what’s going on,” he commented. “I know the Ag Department said they were trying to bring [prices] back in line with [the cost of] services … but it’s the same way with firemen; this is a public health issue.
“If horses are truly one of the top three in agriculture, and agriculture is the biggest industry in the state, you would think you’d want to do stuff to help the industry,” he continued. “So you’d think there’d be a way there could be a subsidy for the necropsies for legitimate producers trying to find out [about potentially infectious/contagious health problems].”
As Erskine explained, “The subsidies available for [state veterinarian Guy Hohenhaus] are in investigations for infectious and contagious diseases. So when you’re doing a necropsy to see if a horse had laminitis or Cushing’s disease or a twisted colon, those are [lower state priorities] than avian influenza or Mad Cow disease. From the public health [standpoint], the biggest one from horses that would qualify is rabies.”
In certain cases, the state of Maryland will pay for equine necropsies and disposals. As Hohen- haus explained, “[Veterinary] reports lead to investigation. Investigation may lead to regulatory action. Regulatory action may lead to the or- dering of diagnostics (to confirm or refute suspected cause). In that case, we pay … and when we order tests, we cover the disposal.” But, he stressed, this does not mean free state necropsies for every reported case. For example, “During the racetrack- associated herpes outbreak of ’06, we ceased ordering necropsies once the diagnosis was established,” he said.
Cases that do not qualify for state-funded necropsies might well be addressed by the Maryland Horse Council’s new Business & Stables: Economic Development committee and its new Equine Health and Welfare committee. “These committees will focus on issues of importance to Maryland business and stable owners, and on equine health issues,” said Seigler. “[They] could consider ways to assist facility owners who suffer catastrophic loss through disease outbreaks, which for some reason do not qualify for state-funded necropsies – for example, by establishing special funds, or by working with insurance companies to provide coverage. Anyone interested in joining the committees in this work should contact [me] at firstname.lastname@example.org.”
Erskine believes it’s certainly possible to procure additional funding for services like necropsies. “I think there is a state interest in an agricultural industry like horses, and as diseases emerge and are potentially contagious, there may be some room for state involvement from the subsidized standpoint, because there’s a public interest in protecting the horse industry,” he said. “Maybe there are things, in the future, that can be done through grants or whatever for disease surveillance. I think there are places where money can come from; they may be private resources or corporate resources that are looking to study something … or research disease incidence.”
As for the increased cost of disposals, “I don’t think it’s an ideal situation,” Erskine admitted. “I’m not sure if that’s something that will end up being a problem, and it kind of relates to the slaughter issue, because you do start to just pile up the costs associated with doing the right thing in the right way.”
For more information on Maryland’s new necropsy/disposal fee schedule and the state’s list of “reportable” diseases, visit www.equiery.com.
© The Equiery 2010