Horseowners who fail to apply for a passport for their animal before 31 December 2003 could face a £5,000 fine or a month’s prison sentence, according to the long-awaited draft legislation which was presented to the equestrian industry by Rural affairs minister Alun Michael at last week’s National Equine Forum.

Breed societies, sports governing bodies, the British Horse Society (BHS) and the British Equestrian Federation (BEF) have until 30 June to submit comments before the document is finalised and becomes law on 30 November.

The document has provoked concern among key organisations that the detail fails to address crucial issues. Welfare organisations are concerned about the compulsory declaration on every passport, section IX, which requires owners to state whethera horse is intended for entry into the human food chain.

As it stands, this declaration is permanent, even if the horse passes to a new owner. Such a rigid clause is not required under EU law.

If most owners declare their horses not for entry into the food chain, it is feared this could lead to the closure of the two English abattoirs licensed to slaughter horses for human consumption, and create a major disposal, and therefore welfare problem.

A spokesman for the BHS, which welcomes horse passports in principle, says: “Certain areas are ambiguous and need clarification. The society is very concerned about section IX and expressed its concerns about welfare implications prior to the issue of the draft. The draft has done nothing to alleviate these concerns.”

A spokesman for the International League for the Protection of Horses (ILPH) also criticised the “opt-out” clause, as well as the system of identification, the main element of which is a silhouette. The legislation does not stipulate that a vet must draw the silhouette, and the ILPH would like microchipping to be used in support to ensure passports belong to the correct animal.

Alun Michael confirmed that DEFRA and the BEF are to create a National Equine Database. The BEF has reformed the working party which drew up the original plan for DEFRA to discuss the issue.

“We would welcome any views on the passport legislation from owners and riders, so that our response to the government can be fully representative,” says BEF chief executive Andrew Finding.

Alun Michael added that DEFRA is to engage in a wide-ranging publicity campaign to ensure that all horse owners are aware of the legislation.

For more details about applying for a passport, e-mail: nazia.naqui@defra.gsi.gov.uk. To read the legislation visit www.defra.gov.uk/corporate/consult/horsepassports

Read the full story, including a step-by-step guide to the new legislation, in this week’s Horse & Hound (3 April 2003), or click here to subscribe and enjoy Horse & Hound delivered to your door every week.