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A rallying call from British equestrian bodies is appealing to horse-owners to oppose government plans for a horse tax.

A coalition of eight groups has launched a Rethink the Horse Tax website and petition, demanding the government scraps its intention to force horse owners to pay for disease control.

In March, Defra announced its aim to devolve responsibility for animal health in England to a new body and share the running costs with farming and equestrianism (news, 16 April).

The new body has estimated start-up costs of £14.3million and maintenance will be £3million per annum.

The groups have branded it “unnecessary, overly complex and unjustifiable”.

Defra will ask the equine industry to contribute 20% of the costs. Owners would be hit with an annual fee of £10.50 per horse and farmers face a similar levy for livestock with chickens costing 4p each and cows £4,80 each.

British Equine Veterinary Association (BEVA) president-elect Dr Madeleine Campbell said: “There is no clear benefit to the equine community and the proposals suggest an unnatural separation between government policy on welfare and health. From a veterinary viewpoint, the two are inextricably linked.”

Equestrianism contributes large amounts of money to the government each year, but, unlike the livestock industry, receives no subsidies.

Racing alone poured £3.7billion into the British economy in 2008 and raised £325million in tax, and it contributes £750,000 annually to disease research.

British Horseracing Authority (BHA) veterinary expert, and chairman of the British Horse Industry Confederation, Professor Tim Morris said: “The proposals are based on inaccurate data and flawed assumptions. They represent an increase in costs for the equine sector where a significant proportion already fund their leisure activities out of taxed income.”

Mark Weston of the British Horse Society (BHS) added: “The equine sector cannot be compared to the livestock sector; it is primarily a leisure activity. Two-thirds of owners have one horse — most do not keep horses to make money.”

The website invites horse owners to write to their MP and sign the petition.

Jan Rogers of the British Equestrian Federation (BEF) told H&H: “There is something that everyone can do — we have to fight this unfair tax.”

Consultation on “responsibility and cost-sharing” closed on 30 June.

A Defra spokesman said: “An advisory group is working to decide how the independent animal health body will be set up. It has not yet been decided whether horses will be involved in the cost-sharing.”

She said the advisory group would report back to farming minister Jim Fitzpatrick by the end of next year.

The coalition comprises BEVA, BHA, BEF, the BHS, the Thoroughbred Breeders Association, the British Equestrian Trade Association, the National Trainers Federation and the Racehorse Owners Association.

Visit Rethink the Horse Tax website