The ERS Korean Project
Equine Reproduction Services and Dail Trade Scientific Inc, successfully export the first frozen semen to The Republic of Korea
Two horse lovers, a world and culture apart, set out on a global journey.
Dr. Y. S., Lee of Seoul Korea, is a veterinarian and owner of a global medical equipment firm, Dail Scientific Trade Inc. In July of 2009, Dr. Lee contacted Karen Berk of Equine Reproduction Services (ERS), Ocala Florida, to inquire about the possibilities of importing frozen semen from the United States. His personal dream was to establish a genetic pool of exceptional stallions to be the foundation of a Korean Verbond and riding horse program.
Karen Berk has been freezing semen both at her Ocala Facility and in Central and South America and throughout the United States with her mobile lab for 15 years. Her ERS Stallion Station had been a USDA and European Union approved semen freezing location since 2005. It has always been her goal to achieve the highest standards in producing quality foals for the future of the equine industry. Through many conversations, it was determined that these two entities, a world apart, would work together to develop a trade and agricultural bridge between the two countries.
Although the individual regulations for exporting equine semen from the US have been well established for shipping to the European Union and most other countries, the Republic of Korea had no trade history with the USDA in this area. Therefore there were no pre existing zoo sanitary paperwork or import licenses. The Korean Authority are extremely diligent in regard to the prevention of any disease entering their country, and with no guidelines set at the time to cover frozen equine semen importation, neither Dr. Lee nor Ms. Berk could foresee the complexity of the task ahead.
The first barrier to overcome was getting approval from the Korean Authority for the ERS facility. Normally approvals are handled by the regional USDA office. In this case Dr. Dix Harrell of the Gainesville Florida. After reaching out to the Korean government, by Dr. Harrell and Dr. Courtney Williams, Asian trade specialist of the NCIE ( National Center for Import and Export) , headquartered in Maryland, they were informed that a delegation of 2 Korean veterinarians from the Authority would travel to Florida to examine and question the ERS facility and staff . Only the Korean government could issue an approval.
This historic meeting took place in December of 2009. In attendance were Drs. Kim and Jung of North Korea representing the Korean Authority, Dr. J Jones, USDA, Dr. Cory Miller, DVM, ACT, of the Equine Medical Center of Ocala, Veterinary Medical officer (VMO) for ERS, and Karen Berk, ERS owner and technical consultant for the stallions and semen freezing. Ms Berk and ERS Stallion Station have been a USDA approved facility for the European Union since 2009.
Communication went surprisingly well considering the lack of a translator. The meeting, inspection and questioning went on for hours. We discovered a vast cultural difference in the operational aspect of horse facilities, government oversight and the regularity of inspections and disease control. One of the biggest surprises to Dr. Kim and Dr. Jeong Won was that American horse farms are not inspected at least monthly by the USDA for disease control, and that horse owners are free to choose their horse’s health program and inoculations without answering to an authority. The testing and diseases the doctors were most concerned about were EVA, CEM and Pyroplasmosis and were also adamant about reviewing extensive record keeping. The day culminated with a tour of Dr. Miller’s impressive clinic and lab, state of the art surgery, MRI and 22 vet staff. Then on to Horse and Hounds Restaurant, an Ocala culinary tradition for excellent food with a horsey atmosphere. It was there that we began to really connect and professionalism soon melded into friendship. But upon their departure, we still had no idea how well we had scored or when we would know.
For the next several months, Dr. Lee and Karen continued to refine what stallions could be candidates for the first test shipment. Dr. Lee’s vision was to build a Korean breeding program and establish the Korean breeds for international competition. For this he requested 3 warmblood stallions of exceptional pedigree with approvals from their respective breeds and show records. He also required an Appaloosa, Paint and Clydesdale stallion for color and competitive driving breeds. His emphasis has always been on sport horses.
Karen’s task was to convince owners of top stallions to allow them to be quarantined at ERS for at least 6 weeks and be collected, inoculated, tested for numerous diseases, semen frozen and shipped to Korea. It was not an easy sell. The first horse contracted was Sampson(KWPN). An imported Dutch Warmblood owned by Kate Levy LLC, with a Grand Prix show record on two continents. Next was Karen Berk’s paint stallion Kid Easy Bar, an N/N son of Impressive with progeny both in the US and Belgium. Between breeding and show seasons it would be difficult to obtain top competition stallions so Dr. Lee accepted 2 approved young stallions with high scores and impressive pedigrees. Embrace, Oldenburg N/A, owned by Wendy Lioporos and SS Stalone, Oldenburg N/A, homozygous black pinto owned by John and Teri Vincent. The Clydesdale is Double H Levy Bill owned by Lassie Thompkins of Briarpatch Farm and the most difficult stallions to procure, an Appaloosa. Annie Martin of North Florida came through with a gem of a stallion Dream Nugget. Now it was just wait and hope we could proceed. The conformation from the Korean Authority came in August of 2010 through the USDA. ERS was awarded the first approval of a facility and program by the Republic of Korea ever. But, it came with a challenge, 32 pages of instructions, testing, timing and conditions. Game on.
Quarantine began in September of 2010. A target date for shipment was Thanksgiving. All testing, collections and freezes were progressing as was expected. And then a shocking test result put on the brakes. The tease mare, Karen’s 23 year old Arabian mare Silver, tested positive for EVA. It was just a trace amount score, but enough to halt the project in its tracks. Silver had been tested extensively each year for other quarantines and had not been exposed to outside stallions. A retest of all horses on the property was both expensive and time consuming but necessary. The quarantine was suspended and everyone involved held their breath for 2 weeks. Additional testing was pulled on Silver and sent to outside labs. All came back negative. It was decided that the original EVA sample had been contaminated at the Federal Lab. With a sigh of relief, work and the quarantine began once again at step one. A very expensive error had lost the window of exporting before the end of the year.
Additionally 3 of the stallions had to leave due to show and breeding commitments at the beginning of the year. The search for qualified stallions had to begin again. Lost were Embrace, who had been sold during the first quarantine, the Dream Nugget, and SS Stallone, who was slated to begin training for his show career.
Dr. Lee was disappointed but extremely supportive. His consistent encouragement gave fire to the project. The first replacement was the Nationally renown Appaloosa sire of champions, Colored By Charlie, owned by Cecily Zuidema. But the necessary 2 additional warmbloods proved a problem. Two weeks went by and after dozens of contacts, no one was either available or willing to send their stallion away for 2 months prior to breeding and show season.
Karen put a request out on the Chronicle of the Horse blog. Twenty minutes later, to her shock, she was contacted by Tawna King, owner of Golden Ventures Farm and the approved Oldenburg stallion Saint Sandro. Saint had just finished his 70 day tests finishing 9th overall. A very impressive for a 3 year old. Moresurprising, after discussing the project at length, Tawna put him in her trailer and personally drove him from Virginia to Ocala Florida the next morning. Karen and Tawna had never met previously. This show of faith proved the turning point. After going back on the COTH forum, announcing Saint Sandro’s arrival, Karen received a second contact. This time the mail came from Stephanie Mendorf of Roanoak Farm in Colorado. Stephanie, the previous year, imported a Perlino warmblood stallion from Czechoslovakia, Sagar, but he was 2000 miles away. Really excited about the possibilities the project presented, Stephanie offered a challenge. It was Wednesday morning. The quarantine needed to be started on Monday to meet the required new deadline. Sagar needed a new Coggins and health certificate to travel and finding cross country transport in 24 hours was doubtful. She gave Karen the job of finding a way. If it could be done, she would send him. The first call to National Equine Transport brought another surprise. They were in the area, heading for Florida, and had one open slot. Stephanie put Sagar in the trailer, hauled him to Colorado State University and got an expedited Coggins test and health certificate. He was on the trailer to Ocala the next evening. As with Tawna, Karen and Stephanie had never met. Amazing leaps of faith abound.
The quarantine and project resumed December 17th 2010. The new deadline for shipping was set for February 5th. Saint would also have to leave no later than this to service mares a home. All new testing and freezes began again, this time with no delays or glitches.
During all the drama, Karen Berk, Dr. Miller and Dr. Harrell remained in close contact. Documents were gone over repeatedly. The paperwork took over 40 hours to complete and had to be reviewed by the USDA repeatedly prior to offering final documentation. Test results, at multiple intervals, for EVA, CEM, Pyroplasmosis, Glanders, Daurine, EIA, and Strangles, were done at the Federal lab in Ames Iowa. Each stallion and tease mare had his own profile and multiple pages of results and scoring. Each stallion was sending 12 doses of semen of which 2 were to be removed at customs and sent to their own labs for testing. Of particular concern to the Koreans was testing for EVA and CEM. The US had been free of CEM until recently and its containment was a concern for the Korean Authority. These tests would require an additional 30 days before the shipment could be released from customs.
To accommodate our project, the Korean Authority built a new facility, housing a complete lab on their customs quarantine property. They also had sent a contingent of vets and lab technicians to Atlanta to the USDA/APHIS Disease Control Center, to study equine diseases, identification and prevention. They had their team in place.
At last, all paperwork passed scrutiny with the USDA and the tank was sealed.
The anticipated ship date arrived with the tank being delivered to the Air Net offices in Orlando for processing through US customs. Within hours Karen was notified that the shipment needed to be delayed due to a weeklong National holiday in Korea. The customs lab would be closed and did not want to have the tank sitting in a holding warehouse. The following week, with a new ship date, came a new bump in the road. The shipment was scheduled on American Airlines. The morning of the shipment, there was a recall of all flights on 787 aircraft. This lasted for more than 2 weeks. The tank was at the freight forwarder in Orlando and had to be picked back up, opened and refilled with liquid nitrogen. It had already been sitting for nearly 3 weeks and the team was concerned with nitrogen levels staying in range for what could be weeks longer. The problem being that the tank was sealed by the USDA and any tampering of the seal meant the shipment had to return to the USDA to be checked and resealed. There was little choice, and the tank was retrieved and returned to Ocala. New dates were set and an alternate route through Japan was organized with another airline. The tank was re sealed by Dr. Harrell, and this time all went as planned.
Dr. Lee met the tank at Customs in Seoul and oversaw its unsealing and withdrawal of the test straws. It was a great day. 30 days later, the Korean Authority declared all tests negative and that the semen exceeded the required 30% minimum motility. It was released from customs into Dr. Lee’s hands.
Dr. Lee sent the following message to Karen. “Congratulation, you have made Korean history.”
It is the hope and dream that this will be the start of the Korean Riding Horse Registries. The six stallions completing the voyage, Sampson, Kid Easy Bar, Saint Sandro, Sagar, Colored By Charlie, and Double H Levi Bill, will be the foundation stallions for sport and competition horses bred in Korea for show and pleasure. They will be bred to top mares imported from the European Union and the United states for Dressage, Hunter, Jumping, Three Day Event, and Competitive Driving.
The voyage of Karen Berk and Y.S. Lee has not come to an end, but passed the first test to bridge the globe for other shipments to follow. We anxiously await the progeny of this great endeavor and their subsequent achievements for Dr. Lee and the Equine enthusiasts of The Republic of Korea.