FEI Congress on Non-Steroidal Anti-Inflammatory Drugs Ends

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Dr. Martial Saugy, Prof. Tim Greet, Frank Kemperman, Brough Scott and Chris Hodson at NSAIDs Congress. © 2010 Patrick Luscher/FEI
Dr. Martial Saugy, Prof. Tim Greet, Frank Kemperman, Brough Scott and Chris Hodson at NSAIDs Congress. © 2010 Patrick Luscher/FEI

LAUSANNE, Switzerland, Aug. 17–A two-day International Equestrian Federation Congress on the use of Non-Steroidal Anti-Inflammatory Drugs–the best known being phenylbutazene or “bute” and banamine–in horses in competition ended Tuesday, hailed by the FEI as an “invaluable contribution” to the debate that is most vividly split by the Atlantic.

Nine European nations prohibit or may prohibit the use of NSAIDs under national law that trump any rules by the FEI, while the United States allows use of NSAIDs with restrictions on the amount.

The FEI brought together more than 200 delegates from 29 countries to discuss the issue after the FEI General Assmbly that is the final authority last year split in an acrimonious debate over a proposal to replace the current ban on NSAIDs with a so-called Progressive List that allowed the use of some drugs in quantities considered beneficial for horses without enhancing performance.

The aim is to develop an approach to the issue that can win acceptance at the General Assembly late this year.

An FEI news release said the congress a brought together the most up-to-date scientific data and non-scientific aspects of NSAID usage.

The congress “clearly demonstrated that this is a debate that cannot be viewed purely from a scientific perspective and that ethical values and legal issues also have to be taken into account,” it said.

Lisa Lazarus, FEI General Counsel, outlined details from nine European countries that prohibit or may prohibit the use of NSAIDs under national law.

In light of these legal issues, she said, the FEI has two options:

1. Either abandon any proposed change in the treatment of NSAIDs, maintaining the status quo that NSAIDs cannot be administered to sport horses during FEI competition anywhere in the world, or

2. Permit the use of NSAIDs at appropriate levels as far as the FEI and its members are concerned, but make it clear to all athletes and participants that the FEI’s rules do not supersede national law, and that anyone participating in the sport in any of the nine countries must note that national laws prohibit, or may prohibit, the use of NSAIDs.

Stephen Schumacher, U.S. Equestrian Federation Chief Administrator of the Equine Drugs and Medications, said American rules allow NSAIDs usage with quantitative restrictions.

“We believe that the welfare of our horses is not put into jeopardy with the judicious use of NSAIDs and their use may in fact be beneficial,” he said.

Lynn Hillyer of the British Horse Racing Authority, explained that the racing authorities of Europe, Hong Kong, North and South Africa, Australasia, Asia and the Middle East, except Saudi Arabia, rule that horses must not race under the effects of any drugs, but acknowledge that medication is necessary–off the racetrack–to ensure a horse’s physical well-being.

“In other words, medication should be an aid to recovery, not a tool to enable a horse that should be resting and recuperating to race or train,” she said.

Dominik Burger, president of the Veterinary Commissions of the Breeding Associations for Swiss sport horses, said that the issue would benefit from a pluralistic ethical analysis based not just on the welfare of horse and rider but also on regional and global public values like integrity, equity, justice, duties and responsibility.

Steve Maynard, Laboratory Director at Horseracing Forensic Laboratory Sport Science, said that quantitative analysis, applied to determine the exact level of a substance being present in the body, is significantly more costly than qualitative analysis carried out to detect the presence of a substance.

The final debate was between Tim Ober of the U.S. and Mike Gallagher of Canada who spoke for the use of NSAIDs and Peter Kallings of Sweden and Christian Paillot of France who were opposed to their use.

FEI Veterinary Director Graeme Cooke said the FEI achieved a number of key objectives through the congress: gathering up the science that had become available since 1993, bringing together the scientific and non-scientific, providing an opportunity to hear related views, and ensuring there will be a record of the event to inform National Federations and everyone with an interest in the debate and allowing for further review before the FEI General Assembly in November.

Sven Holmberg, the FEI First Vice President who chaired the Congress, stressed the importance of keeping the debate alive between now and the vote on in-competition use of NSAIDs in November.

“There is no doubt that both sides of the Atlantic and the rest of the world have the same clear goal in mind: that the welfare of the horse is really paramount to whatever we do,” he said.

A report on the Congress will be sent to all National Federations, and the FEI website will continue to offer a feedback area for comments.