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Paul Bittar

Paul Bittar: addressed the National Equine Forum on Thursday

  PICTURE: Dan Abraham/BHA  

Doping and diseases lead equine forum agenda

PAUL BITTAR said on Thursday that the British Horseracing Authority was considering how to encompass horses not in training with regards to rules on steroid use.

In his talk 'Medication and doping control in racing' at the National Equine Forum in London, the regulator's chief executive said that while pre-training yards and yearling sales were not currently under the jurisdiction of the BHA, as part of its review into domestic rulings on the use of anabolic steroids it was looking at how to "capture certain parts of the participant framework in which we operate".

Bittar said: "2013 was a watershed year for us in terms of anabolic steroids coming to the fore, but at the same time presented us with an opportunity to put back on to the world stage the use of steroids and the need for consistent rules.

"At the moment our current position and current rules are going through a review process. One of the most contentious issues is: do we allow an exemption for the therapeutic use of anabolic steroids?

"There are a number of racing jurisdictions that do, but my personal opinion has moved quite strongly to the view that we don't need an exemption within British racing."

Prior to taking up his role at the BHA, Bittar worked at Racing Victoria in Australia, which until last year allowed the use of anabolic steroids out of competition.


Commenting on the first case that thrust racing into the headlines over anabolic steroid use, that of Sheikh Mohammed's former trainer Mahmood Al Zarooni, Bittar said: "It was a case of unprecedented scale. At the time we had tested only 45 of Al Zarooni's horses, yet we had 11 positive tests - when you consider our normal rate is somewhere under 0.1 per cent, it's a very significant outcome.

"Several things went through my mind when I first heard the news, the first being that he [Sheikh Mohammed] is the ruler of a country, who has the biggest string of thoroughbreds on the international stage, probably has the best part of a £1 billion investment in British racing, both from a racing and breeding perspective, and employs probably around 1,500-2,000 people across the country.

"But once you move beyond that and back into an integrity and regulatory framework you realise no matter who we're dealing with they all have to be treated fairly, equally and impartially under the rules.

"Whether you believe it or not Al Zarooni maintained he was not aware that the drugs were illegal in the UK - at the time they were permitted in the UAE - and that highlighted the disparity between international jurisdictions in terms of protocols and the rules associated with the use of anabolic steroids."

Touching on the difficulties in achieving international harmonisation on the issue, Bittar admitted at present the aim was to set a high bar for the minimum standards to be followed by racing jurisdictions, and ensure that suspensions were a strong deterrent.


International compliance proved a recurring theme throughout the day, one of several topics highlighting the array of issues that are not limited to racing, but affect other areas of the equestrian industry.

Speaking on behalf of an absent Sonke Lauterbach, secretary general and CEO of the German National Federation, British Equestrian Federation chief executive Andrew Finding highlighted the sensitivity surrounding horse sports worldwide, although particularly in Europe, where the industry often needed to defend the use of horses as a sports partner.

"But as long as we're not able to speak with one voice, we remain subject to attack from animal rights organisations," said Finding.


Also absent was the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Owen Paterson, his placed filled by Defra's deputy chief veterinary officer Alick Simmons.

First on the agenda was the recent amendments to the Tripartite agreement between Britain, France and Ireland which come into effect in May, allowing easier movement of high health status horses between the three countries.

"Last year highlighted the importance of different sectors working together and with the Government," said Simmons. "Defra hopes to build on this in the coming months and the Secretary of State commended the proactive approach in resolving the problems of the earlier Tripartite agreement.

"This ensures a higher level of protection between the countries, helping to manage the risk of diseases like equine infectious anaemia."

However, less welcome news was further confirmation that the Defra is preparing to de-regulate contagious equine metritis and equine viral arteritis, two diseases with serious implications for the bloodstock industry.

"The few cases of these diseases in recent years have been dealt with well," said Simmons. "We need to maintain the ability to respond, monitor and ensure we're prepared, but this can be done without Defra regulation."

Various parties from within the thoroughbred breeding sector have pledged to oppose the move.


On the same topic later in the day Roly Owers, chief executive of World Horse Welfare, addressed the problem of over-production in the general British horse population in his talk 'Do you need to breed?'.

Discussing the problems caused by indiscriminate breeding among the 'happy hacker' population, Owers claimed the country was in a crisis situation, but praised the Horserace Betting Levy Board codes of practice for educating those who did breed.

"The HBLB provides codes for the containment and eradication of CEM and EVA, so if you are going to breed please consult the code and help play your part in helping to control these diseases," said Owers.

 

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