More than a year after the horse meat scandal revealed the shambolic reality of Britain's equine identification system, leading equine organisations are warning that Europe's proposed new horse passport laws are fatally flawed and should be rejected, as the Standing Committee prepares to vote on them next week.
Organisations including the British Equine Veterinary Association (BEVA) and charity World Horse Welfare have both been closely involved in advising Defra on the proposed new laws, and have today written to the Secretary of State to outline their concerns over the latest draft and urge the UK not to support it.
"Europe is on the brink of scuppering its opportunity to introduce an equine identification system that will work. 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," said Roly Owers, Chief Executive of World 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 - like 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 PIO 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.
BEVA 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+ horse passport issuers based in the UK or the many others based elsewhere in the EU 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" explains David.
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. 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 PIO 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," said Roly.
World Horse Welfare 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," said Roly. “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."
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