DEFRA is said to be considering altering the controversial “section IX” passport declaration where horse owners have to state if their horse may be slaughtered for human consumption in the future.

The new equine passports were first outlined in draft legislation last month. In its original state “section IX” required the horse’s first owner to decide whether the horse could or could not be slaughtered for human consumption.

If the owner declared the horse couldn’t go for meat, that decision would apply for its entire life, in which case treatment with some veterinary medicines would be prohibited to prevent such drugs entering the human food chain.

The International League for the Protection of Horses (ILPH) has proposed that horse owners shouldn’t have to fill in the declaration until the horse is treated with the relevant drugs.

The following proposal from the British Equestrian Federation working party will be presented to DEFRA: “The declaration of whether a horse is intended for the human food chain does not need to be signed until such time as a veterinary surgeon prescribes a drug from Annex IV or a drug without a MRL (Minimum Residual Level) from Annexes l, ll or lll, at which point the declaration will have to be signed as ‘not intended for slaughter for human consumption’.”

DEFRA official Allan Buchan stated that should DEFRA take the proposal on board, a statement would be issued prior to the passports order going onto the statute books in November.

John Smales, ILPH chief executive, comments:”By removing the responsibility of the declaration away from the first owner to register the horse, the horse’s welfare at the end of its life will not be compromised and the possible closure of England’s two equine abattoirs can be averted.”

Most of the passport-issuing offices are already processing passport applications in advance of the scheme becoming compulsory on 30 November.

The ILPH has recommended that anyone receiving a new passport before the final legislation is published should not complete section IX yet.

“As DEFRA is seriously considering our proposal we strongly advise those horse owners acquiring new passports not to fill in the declaration section, as this could be changed,” says Smales.

The consultation period continues until 30 June; an analysis of the legislation is now online at www.bef.co.uk

Read the full story in this week’s Horse & Hound (17 April), or click here to subscribe and enjoy Horse & Hound delivered to your door every week.