Restricting the equine passport scheme only to horses which are to be slaughtered for human consumption could save the government £1.8m per year, Viscount Astor has told the House of Lords.

The viscount led a lively debate in the Lords last week, in which a number of peers expressed serious concerns about the passport proposals as they stand.

The government’s own Regulatory Impact Assessment, published on 27 March, suggested that concentrating on horses going for slaughter would cost £140,000-£300,000 per year.

On the otherhand, issuing passports for all horses, as has been stipulated in the government’s Statutory Instrument, could cost the industry £2m per year, on top of £17.6m start-up costs.

DEFRA minister in the House of Lords, Lord Whitty, responded by stating that a universal passport scheme was favoured by the horse industry itself.

Support for microchipping

Lord Mancroft, Viscount Ullswater and Lord Soulsby all advocated the use of microchips rather than a silhouette to identify horses.

British Equestrian Federation (BEF) chief executive Andrew Finding, who has liaised with DEFRA on behalf of the horse industry, says: “It seems that there is increasing support across the board for the use of microchips, and even the minister [Alun Michael] has indicated that he sees the wisdom in their use.

“However, the EU legislation stipulates the use of a silhouette, so DEFRA would need to apply to Europe to use microchip details instead – and that is a process that may take some time.”

Andrew also confirms that the scheme’s set-up costs will not be hitting the industry in the pocket.

“The substantial set-up figure for the passport scheme quoted by Viscount Astor is DEFRA’s own calculation and presumably includes their costs for drawing up the legislation.

“Our consultants estimate that the database will cost £500,000 to set up, and DEFRA has indicated that it will cover this, as well as providing staffing to support the health surveillance aspects of the scheme.”

Read the full story in this week’s Horse & Hound (12 June), or click here to subscribe and enjoy Horse & Hound delivered to your door every week.