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Better Laws for Horses in Britain

World Horse Welfare was founded in 1927 as a campaigning organisation, and since that time we have helped to intiate and shape laws protecting horses in Britain as well as Europe.

It has never been so important to minimise the risk of serious and infectious diseases from entering or spreading across borders. An outbreak of disease could be catastrophic for the equestrian industry as well as threatening the welfare of horses in general.

We sit on the steering group for the Equine Sector Council for Health and Welfare and the National Equine Welfare Council amongst other organisations, and we are members of the Associate Parliamentary Group for Animal Welfare in Westminster and the Cross-Party Group for Animal Welfare in Scotland. We were closely involved in the Companion Animal Welfare Enhancement Scheme in Wales and regularly attend meetings of the All Party Parliamentary Group of the Horse.

We are currently working on:

Welfare at Slaughter

Learn more about this campaign.

  • The passport system has long been open to fraud and abuse and is not fit for purpose. This is because it is very easy to get a duplicate passport and also very easy to tamper with or produce fake passports.
  • There is little consistency between passports issued by the UK's 75+ Passport Issuing Organisations (PIOs) which makes enforcement more difficult than it needs to be.
  • There is a wide range of passport quality, with many passports, particularly those for the purpose of 'ID only', easily tampered with or reproduced on home printers. Some PIOs have been implicated in the production of fraudulent passports.
  • Enforcement of the rules has been seen as a low priority by local authorities due to restricted resources.
  • Problems with the passport system are so widespread that it is held in contempt by many horse owners, and seen as pointless bureaucracy which only penalises those who choose to abide by the law.
  • In a recent survey of UK horse owners carried out on behalf of the Equine Sector Council for Health and Welfare shows that the law is generally poorly understood by horse owners, vets, enforcement bodies and the meat trade and many of the fundamental requirements are ignored by PIOs.

Recommendations

  • The passport system needs a complete overhaul, and its relaunch must be accompanied by clear guidance, effective communications and robust enforcement for it to fulfil its prime purpose of protecting the food chain and therefore the public.
  • Simple measures to improve passports like a single approved passport template incorporating embossing, lamination, stamps and robust binding would make a huge difference to enforcement.
  • It would be immensely helpful if all horses, ponies and donkeys were microchipped and not only those born after July 2009.
  • Horse owners and veterinary surgeons must ensure that they play their part in making sure the law is followed.
  • The equine identification Regulation ((EC) No 504/2008) must be evaluated to ensure that it is being robustly implemented and enforced across all Member States to ensure proper traceability. Better implementation and enforcement of the Regulation are desperately needed across all countries.
  • Inconsistent compliance with this legislation and a lack of enforcement increases the risk that horses may enter the food chain which should not do so: this includes horses which have been treated with drugs unsuitable for administration to horses intended for human consumption, or horses that have no passport, or inaccurate passports, and therefore no record of any drugs they may have been treated with during their lifetimes.
  • The passport regulations need to be identical in all four countries of the UK.

A Central Equine Database

A Central Equine Database is an invaluable tool for passport production, enforcement and the prevention of the spread of equine disease. Its demise after Defra's withdrawal of funding has caused great difficulties and separately, the European Commission has proposed that each Member States must have an equine database.

  • Passports must be simple to assess and verify within minutes - and there must be more stringent methods to ensure that duplicate passports are not issued
  • It is now no longer possible to check passport details quickly and easily: instead, it is necessary to write to Defra, who in turn must contact every Passport Issuing Organisation in the UK (there are more than 75 of these).
  • Unsurprisingly, delays of many days or even weeks are now commonplace since funding was withdrawn. This poses great difficulties to enforcement bodies and equine welfare organisations trying to check passport details quickly and accurately and to find the owner of a stray animal.
  • Checks which used to take minutes now take at least a week - if not weeks, when in practice identification is often required immediately by local authorities, the Animal Health and Veterinary Laboratories Agency (AHVLA), the police, the Vehicle and Operator Services Agency (VOSA) and the Food Standards Agency (FSA) when they are undertaking enforcement activity on the roads, at ports, markets or abattoirs.

Recommendations:

The Equine Sector Council for Health and Welfare is working on proposals, led by the British Equestrian Federation, to re-establish a Central Equine Database (CED). The EU's Five Point Plan on horse meat will require Member States to run a central database, the the Sector believes one should be introduced as soon as possible.

  • The costs are marginal, the benefits significant. Effective enforcement of the passport system is impossible without one as it is the only way to check a passport quickly and easily.
  • The former NED's potential use to aid in disease control was never properly recognised by those outside of the equine sector and has been confirmed by recent peer reviewed scientific papers.
  • Two further cases of Equine Infectious Anaemia were reported in 2012, linked to an outbreak in 2010. This episode has revealed key weaknesses in the system, with traceability of horses imported in the same consignment as the EIA positive horses proving to be a problem. A CED is an essential tool for mapping owners in the event of disease outbreak, and is essential for enforcement of the legislation by Defra and local authorities. If Foot and Mouth taught us anything, it is that we must know where animals are kept in order to control it.

Live Export from the UK

Since we were founded in 1927, World Horse Welfare has campaigned to end the live export of horses for slaughter from Britain. Over the years, we have helped to put in place a package of laws that protect horses from needless journeys to slaughter. These include the Animal Transport Regulation, the Animal Welfare Act and Animal Health and Welfare (Scotland) Act, and Minimum Values, an important piece of legislation which prohibits the export of ponies and working horses worth less than a specified amount. Since that time many equine organisations including World Horse Welfare have expressed concern that the movement of low value and dealers' animals into the UK without certification may carry an unacceptable disease risk.

We continue to monitor the trade, and draw the attention of the authorities to any suspicious activity. We are aware that a number of horses are exported every year, for a variety of purposes – and many leave our ports without any checks on their paperwork or welfare. It is therefore impossible to know whether the laws meant to protect them are being complied with. World Horse Welfare is calling for the legislation meant to protect our most vulnerable horses and ponies from indiscriminate export to be properly enforced as a matter of urgency.

As part of this work, we campaigned successfully for restrictions to the Tripartite Agreement to protect vulnerable horses. It was clear that horses which may be destined for slaughter if they cannot be sold for other purposes were being moved under the TPA and therefore without animal health certification. Evidence also showed that horses are transported under the TPA as cover for other illegal exports and imports, thus facilitating crime. We are pleased that our recommendations for changes to the TPA were brought into force in May 2014, although we must stress that these changes will only be effective if they are properly enforced.

Recommendations:

A proposal drafted by World Horse Welfare and put forward by the Equine Sector Council for Health and Welfare calling for restriction of the TPA to the movements of 'high health status' horses, e.g. those with FEI passports and Thoroughbreds from approved studbooks, was accepted and came into force in May 2014. World Horse Welfare has been pressing for such restrictions since 2009, which are essential to:

  • safeguard the welfare of lower value horses
  • protect the British equine industry from disease entry and spread
  • impede illegal activities for which horse movements can be used as cover

Biosecurity

In addition to World Horse Welfare's campaign on disease prevention and role in Britain's Disease Coalition, World Horse Welfare has been working with Defra on keeping notifiable diseases, outbreaks of which which must be reported to government, notifiable.

There is a real concern within the sector that consideration is being given by government to remove Contagious Equine Metritis (CEM) and Equine Viral Arteritis (EVA) from the list of notifiable diseases, thus removing the requirement for outbreaks of this disease to be alerted to Defra. This would be a retrograde step with significant implications.

Recommendations:

  • CEM and EVA should remain notifiable diseases. The current list of notifiable diseases should be maintained although more of the cost of monitoring for these two diseases could be borne by the equine industry.
  • The equine industry contributes £7 billion to the UK economy each year and is especially vital in rural communities. However, all parts of the horse industry agree that a serious disease outbreak could have a very deleterious financial impact on the industry.
  • An outbreak of CEM or EVA would be far more difficult to control if the diseases were made non-notifiable and could threaten the industry and Britain's reputation - particularly as a centre for equestrian sports and horseracing.
  • Removal of CEM and EVA from the notifiable disease list would also have adverse effects on international trade in breeding stock, with biosecurity standards in all sectors appearing to be undermined, and would risk further damage to Defra's reputation with both the domestic and international equine industry. The present arrangements underpin our export market in breeding stock.
  • Reduced compliance with other notifiable disease notification, surveillance and control arrangements may follow, and Artificial Insemination (AI) stations working to EU and British Equine Veterinary Association (BEVA) standards would no longer be underpinned under the Horserace Betting Levy Board (HBLB) Codes of Practice which have been so effective in maintaining our freedom from CEM and other diseases,
  • The costs of robust disease control are relatively small, but the consequences of a serious outbreak may be immensely expensive.

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