Britain’s two main horse abattoirs are fighting to stay afloat now equine passport legislation is being enforced. The supply of horses sent to them crashed after passport regulations kicked in on 1 March, prompting fears of a welfare crisis.

The abattoirs, Cheshire Equine Services Ltd and Somerset-based Lawrence Potter, provide a crucial outlet for animals of low value — from surplus semi-feral ponies to ageing horses. The abattoirs pay owners for horses and ponies (up to £350 for a large animal) and buy low-value animals from auctions themselves. After animals are killed, most are shipped to France as meat.

But since 1 March, horses sent to abattoirs must have passports to allow them to go for human consumption.

Val Turner, director of Cheshire Equine Services, said: “Turnover has dropped by 70%. Our biggest business is ponies and we haven’t had a single one since 1 March, because nothing is getting to auction.

“You can’t expect people to obtain a passport for pony foals and yearlings just to move them on — buying a passport costs more than it does to send them here. Also, you can’t arrange one for ponies unless they’ve been handled because you need to find the markings.

“It’ll take a year for people to get round to it, by which time we’ll probably be out of business. We’re literally opening to lose money.”

Stephen Potter, owner of LJ Potter Lt, said: “It’s a nightmare. So few [animals] are now being sent to us.”

Jo White from the International League for the Protection of Horses, warned: “If the abattoirs close, we’d be very concerned. They offer a humane route for people who can’t afford carcase disposal and euthanasia. We’d get more abandoned horses and ponies, or cases of animals kept alive past the time they should be. There’s also the threat of ponies being shipped abroad illegally.”

Abattoir staff are also battling extra administration — cross-checking passports with a vet, logging and stamping them, then passing them to the Meat Hygiene Service, which collects them on behalf of the Food Standards Agency, from where they get sent back to the issuing authority.

LJ Potter Ltd can issue passports, or add section IX to old passports, at the abattoir, where there is a Pet-ID passport office — but neither service is immediate. Meanwhile, DEFRA has said that in passports where section IX was completed by the PIO to indicate that the horse is not intended for human consumption, this
is not valid unless countersigned by the owner.

Ironically, if British abattoirs lose their market in France, supply could be taken over by US suppliers, where there is no traceability of medicines — contrary to the EU law that has led to horse passports.

  • This news report was first published in Horse & Hound (31 March, ’05)

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