Owners who have not got a passport for their horses by the end of the day (28 February, 05) could be facing prosecution and fines of up to £5,000 after the law governing equine passports comes into force at midnight tonight.
According to Defra, around half a million passports have been issued prior to the deadline. With estimates of the number of horses currently in Britain ranging from 600,000 to 1,000,000, it appears that a considerable number of equines still do not have the necessary documentation to comply with the new law.
Trading standards officers working for local authorities will enforce the legislation. Defra has sent out guidance on enforcement to local authorities but no extra finance has been issued to cover the additional work.
A Defra spokesperson told HHO: “Local authorities have not been given extra funds specifically to cover the work associated with enforcing horse passports as it falls within a wider framework of duties. It is not expected that extra funding will be needed.”
Enforcement of the new passport law will begin on 1 March and Defra expects trading standards officers will focus initially on slaughter houses and ports dealing with the import and export of horses.
“The new legislation has been introduced primarily to prevent certain equine medicines from entering the human food chain and so the initial enforcement will take place at locations involved with this process,” the spokesperson explained.
However, competitors are being warned that trading standards officers could turn up at shows and ask to see passports for the horses taking party without warning.
“The legislation requires passports to accompany horses when they attend competitions so riders need to remember to take their horses’ passports with them every time they compete,” the spokesperson added.
Defra is keen to ease any concerns from responsible owners who have applied for passports but have not yet received them due to backlogs at passport-issuing organisation.
“In the early days of the legislation trading standards officers are expected to be lenient on owners who can prove they have applied for a passport, but have not yet received it,” the spokesman confirmed.
Defra has also confirmed that while all horses should be sold in future with their own passport, individuals who purchase a horse without documentation and then immediately apply to the relevant PIO for a passport are unlikely to be penalised.