Horse owners must get something for their money if the government plans to charge them a “horse tax” to pay for unexpected disease outbreaks.
So argued a coalition of equestrian groups last week when they issued Defra with a fresh proposal for how it could monitor disease and welfare among Britain’s equines.
At an Equine Health and Welfare Strategy (EHWS) meeting on Wednesday, 4 November, British Horse Industry Confederation (BHIC) chairman Professor Tim Morris said Defra’s plan was unsuited to the horseworld.
He said: “There is no mention of biosecurity in Defra’s proposal and there are no incentives built in for the horse industry — it’s just hand over your money.”
Defra announced plans in March to create a new body to monitor animal health in Britain and to share the running costs across the farming and equestrian worlds, as a safety measure should diseases like African horse sickness take hold here.
But instead of funding a new body, the BHIC proposes that the government sets up an office for animal health within Defra, led by a government minister with power to create equine and agricultural policy.
Paul Jepson, chief executive of leading charity the Horse Trust, told the meeting: “Most horse owners are willing to accept the principle of paying towards their animal’s health, but want to know how the money would be spent.”
And Keith Meldrum of the charity World Horse Welfare said the money raised by agriculture must be ring-fenced to ensure it does not “disappear into a big government pot”.
But Defra officer Donna Yates said the government believed the separate animal health unit would improve disease management and reduce costs to the tax payer.
“We are aware of the differing views on this subject which is why we set up a consultative group,” she said.
The group will review the plan for cost-sharing and report to Defra next autumn.
Ms Yates also suggested that the horse tax levy — presently set at £10.50 (news, 29 October) — could be a blanket payment per horse-keeper, no matter how many horses they have.
A Rethink the Horse Tax campaign was launched by the horse industry last month (news, 8 October), but so far only 5,000 horse owners have signed the petition to the government.
To add your name, go to www.rethinkthehorsetax.org
This article was first published in Horse & Hound (12 November, ’09)