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A provider for the new equine database will hopefully be in place “by the spring”, the National Equine Forum heard on 3 March.

Defra minister George Eustice spoke about recent and possible changes to legislation affecting the equine industry.

He added that Defra has been consulting with the Equine Sector Council (ESC) about having extra functions on the government-funded database to make it fit for purpose.

New EU laws regarding equine identification came into force at the start of the year.

However EU member states that do not already have a database in place — such as Britain — have until 1 July to implement one.

Industry figures recently raised concerns that horse identification laws, due to be updated on 1 January, have not yet been formally introduced (news, 18 February).

Jan Rogers, of the British Equestrian Federation, spoke about the timescale.

By 1 July, the system will be ready for uploads and will have a link to the Scottish database, and by 2017 it will have a fully-operational complete set of passport data records, accessible for enforcers.

There are plans for mobile access, so enforcers can log in at the roadside.

“This is going to make a huge difference to the way it is used and the way [the law] is enforced,” Ms Rogers said.

The sector is also considering fixed-penalty notices for non-compliance.

There have been two previous equine databases in Britain. The British Horse Database ceased trading in 2001 after hitting financial difficulties.

It was replaced in 2008 by the National Equine Database, which shut in 2012 when the government stopped funding it.

Welfare codes to change

Animal welfare codes are losing their statutory status.

The codes give a detailed, practical guide for caring for types of animals.

“The codes are going to be non-statutory — I know that there is some concern [about that],” said Mr Eustice.

This means codes will have to be formally introduced to court hearings in the UK, by the defence or prosecution.

Mr Eustice said that if in two or three years it is found this does not work, Defra will “absolutely” return to providing these codes on a statutory basis.

The ESC worked with Defra to update the existing code.

Roly Owers, of ESC member World Horse Welfare, said the council is concerned this change could diminish the status of the code in prosecution cases, but are encouraged that the minister “clearly stated” the government will review this.

“The ESC was clear in our view that the code should remain statutory,” he added.

A consultation on whether all horses, not just those foaled from July 2009, should be microchipped is in the pipeline for 2016.

“It is a fundamental element to having an effective equine identification system, which is what we so desperately need,” said Mr Owers. “We would urge everyone to support this vital measure.”

Will riding schools be affected?

Mr Eustice revealed Defra is considering abolishing licences for riding schools issued under the Riding Establishment Acts, to be replaced with a new animal establishment licence or industry accreditation scheme.

Currently, riding schools must be granted a licence annually by their local authority.

“World Horse Welfare supports the principle so long as the implementation does not water down current welfare standards, and that standards in the industry accredited schemes have an equivalent verifiable standard,” said Mr Owers.

“Any changes also need to tie in with proposed changes in EU legislation regarding animal health, which will require the registration of all equine premises.”

In-out debate

Mr Eustice voiced his support for Britain to leave the EU.

“My own personal view is that we would be better off leaving,” he said. “We would be able to change things and do things far more simply.”

He added the government wants to stay in the EU.

The referendum on whether or not Britain should stay in the EU will take place on 23 June. However, Rt Hon Elizabeth Truss MP, Secretary of State for the environment, food and rural affairs, is backing the “in” campaign.

Ref: H&H 10 March, 2016