The slaughter of two stolen loan horses for meat has revealed a loophole in current horse passport law.

Norfolk Police are investigating the disappearance of the mares, who were put on loan last year. H&H has now learned they were sent through an abattoir under false passports.

Norfolk resident Emma Hitchcox put veteran Lady and 10-year-old Gwen, who had kissing spines, out on loan last October to a woman who gave her a false name and address. The horses went through Turner’s abattoir in Nantwich, Cheshire, a month later.

“I am devastated,” said Ms Hitchcox. “I have been desperately trying to track them down and rang all the abattoirs. Turner’s told me they went through on 6 November.”

Gwen was microchipped and Lady freeze-marked, but H&H has learned that the Horse Passport Agency did not check the horses’ details against the National Equine Database (NED) or the Stolen Horse Register before re-passporting the animals.

Neither did Turner’s perform these extra checks before they went to slaughter.

The case represents the clearest indication yet of how open the passport system is to abuse, and how it can pose a serious threat to human health — the very reason passports were introduced in the first place in February 2005.

Both horses had been given the painkiller bute — banned in meat for human consumption — by Ms Hitchcox in the weeks before they were stolen.

Turner’s proprietor, Val Turner, told H&H: “The horses came to us from a dealer who I believe bought them at Melton [Mowbray horse] sales.

The passports were fine. They were the right horses, with the right markings, the right freeze-mark and they had the right silhouette.”

Defra said this loophole would be closed by legislation to be introduced in July requiring all foals and adult horses being passported to be microchipped. It will also become mandatory for PIOs to record that number and pass it on to NED.

Read this story in full in the current issue of Horse & Hound (29 January, ’09)