Europe’s proposed new horse passport plans are fatally flawed and should be rejected, two leading British equine organisations believe.
The charity World Horse Welfare and the British Equine Veterinary Association (Beva) warn that the draft law will not protect horses or the food chain.
The warning comes more than a year after the horse meat scandal revealed the shambolic reality of Britain’s equine identification system.
Both organisations have been closely involved in advising Britain’s agriculture agency, Defra, on the proposed new laws.
However, the latest draft of proposed European passport system has caused them so much concern that they have now written to the Secretary of State to outline their issues and urge Britain not to support it.
“Europe is on the brink of scuppering its opportunity to introduce an equine identification system that will work,” World Horse Welfare chief executive Roly Owers said.
“The updated law being considered by the European Union, whilst making significant progress in some areas, simply fails to learn from the problems of the past.
“The draft as it stands will actually create even more implementation and enforcement problems – and could actually pose a serious risk to horse welfare.”
While the organisations welcome some of the new provisions, such as requiring each member state to have a centralised equine database, improved identification document standards and the option of microchipping all horses, they note some glaring flaws – such as the requirement for the ID to accompany a carcase for destruction, confusion over who is responsible for sending IDs off for invalidation, and the need to return a passport to a passport issuing office for updating upon change of ownership.
Equine vets are especially concerned that the proposed new laws would place an unworkable obligation on them to check that horse owners have lodged the correct paperwork with their horse passport issuer.
British Equine Veterinary Association chief executive David Mountford said: “The draft procedure for signing animals out of the food chain is causing immense concern to the veterinary profession who consider it totally ridiculous, almost impossible to implement and doomed to fail.”
Under the proposal, if a horse owner has forgotten to send the horse’s ID document to their passport issuer for endorsement then their vet could be breaking the law if they fail to realise and rectify the horse owner’s omission.
This would require the vet to know which of the 70-plus horse passport issuers based in Britain or the many others based elsewhere in the European Union has registered the horse.
“Vets should be accountable for the medicines they prescribe but the responsibility for the drug residues in the individual horse and the horse’s passport documentation should logically lie with the horse owner or keeper as it does with every other species that may end up in the human food chain,” he said.
World Horse Welfare is also concerned that the new laws could risk horse welfare by discouraging horse owners from making responsible end-of-life decisions for their animals over fears they may not be able to get the carcase collected because of insufficient paperwork.
Under the proposals, the driver of the collection vehicle would be breaking the law if they take the carcase away without the ID. However, in many cases the ID will not be available or the animal may never have been issued with an ID, especially if the animal is under a year old, comes off a moor, is a stray, has been dumped, or is a road casualty.
“This risks leading to a situation where animals that do not have an ID will not be put down at the end of their life, where there is a welfare need to do so, simply because the keeper will not be able to have the carcase collected,” Owers said.
“This could lead to even more animals being dumped and to consequential welfare problems.
“This problem is exacerbated by the fact that confusingly, the proposed law still requires the keeper to return the ID to the passport issuing office even though it would have already gone with the carcase for destruction. We know from experience that this part of the law is in desperate need of review.”
The charity also believes that the European Commission has not learned lessons from past mistakes in light of the requirement for the ID to be lodged with the PIO when the ownership of the animal changes, which has caused serious problems with the current equine passport regulations.
“The need to permit notification of a change of ownership electronically is one of the key lessons from the current system,” Owers said.
“Otherwise, it is unlikely to happen at all. History has shown that these loopholes will undermine the integrity of the system and make it unworkable. The result will be another weak system that will not ensure the safety of the food chain or enable the laws that protect our horses to be effectively enforced.”