Defra has stressed it takes animal welfare “very seriously” and indicated plans to “consult” in response to a punchy report condemning Britain’s “not fit for purpose” equine identification system.
The Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (EFRA) select committee report into moving animals across borders post-Brexit (news, 7 October) made detailed, direct and time-specific recommendations to Defra.
The report stated that the scale and causes of the illegal movement of horses across borders (“horse smuggling”) should be investigated by Defra “as a matter of urgency”. It also stated that once the scale has been identified, Defra “should set out a plan to address it within a year, and no later”.
The report also stated the current equine identification system is “not fit for purpose”, adding that its “outdated and fragmented paper systems enable fraud”.
In his evidence to the committee, World Horse Welfare chief executive Roly Owers said many horses do not have passports, that the current system is “as leaky as a sieve” and that there is “significant fraud”.
The report called on the Government to embrace, or guarantee interoperability with, digital systems already in place in certain parts of the industry and develop a funded action plan to enforce identification rules. It calls for a consultation to be published within the next three months and that the action plan should be published within three months of the consultation’s conclusion. The need for a replacement to the Tripartite agreement, to enable ease of movement of high health status horses between Britain, Ireland and France, was also highlighted.
The report was welcomed by the industry, with Mr Owers stating that the recommendations would make a “huge positive difference to equine welfare” if implemented.
Defra’s response acknowledged the report, while remaining light on promises relating to the recommendations.
“We take animal welfare issues and issues such as horse smuggling very seriously,” a Defra spokesman told H&H.
“We have a range of initiatives set out in the action plan for animal welfare to raise standards, including in the equine sector, but we will consider EFRA’s report carefully.
“We intend to consult on equine identification and traceability in England shortly and will be keen to hear views from equine organisations, owners, vets and racing industry representatives on digital solutions.”
The action plan referred to by the spokesman was published in May and sets out the Government’s aims regarding welfare for all kinds of animals.
Its scope includes the upcoming Animal Welfare (Kept Animals) Bill, which will ban the live exports of livestock and equines for fattening and slaughter from Britain.
Consideration of changes to equine identification and traceability to improve biosecurity and animal welfare with key stakeholders are outlined in the report, as are plans to “consult on proposals later in the year”.
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