A GOVERNMENT consultation on the equine ID system is a “fantastic opportunity to get it right”, and a rare chance to change legislation for the better.
H&H reported last year that Defra planned to consult, after an Environment, Food and Rural Affairs select committee report into moving animals across borders post-Brexit condemned Britain’s “not fit for purpose” equine identification system.
The report stated that the scale and causes of the illegal movement of horses across borders should urgently be investigated by Defra, and that the current equine identification system is “not fit for purpose”, adding that its “outdated and fragmented paper systems enable fraud” (news, 21 October).
Jan Rogers of the British Horse Council (BHC), who is also head of research and policy at the Horse Trust, told H&H the consultation is welcome.
She added that the Government questionnaire is long and very technical, so the BHC has created a more accessible version, responses to which it will collate and feed into the main consultation.
“The survey invites people who may not have great understanding of law, or great engagement with passport-issuing organisations for their views, on what would make it easier for them to keep their records up to date,” she said.
Defra acknowledges in the consultation that the data on the Central Equine Database, which should contain up-to-date details of all equines who live in the UK, is inaccurate and incomplete, for reasons including the fact equine passports are paper-based.
Among its proposals is to allow horse keepers to update their horses’ passport details online or via an app, free.
Ms Rogers said current equine ID regulations were brought in in 2015, after the horsemeat scandal, and based on food-chain safety. Since Brexit, Defra is now looking at prioritising welfare and traceability, and disease prevention.
“But we can only do that if we know where horses are,” she said. “They’re trying to find out what the system needs to do to meet these requirements.
“This is so important. We don’t have many opportunities to change legislation for the better and if we don’t get this right, it will be a long time before we get another chance.”
World Horse Welfare CEO Roly Owers said the horsemeat scandal highlighted the need for major change to the ID system.
“The current system is simply not working and having a simple, effective digital system is vital to underpin many aspects of the enforcement of animal health and welfare regulations, not least being able to trace a horse suffering from poor welfare back to the person responsible for it,” he said.
“Defra now has a fantastic window of opportunity to get it right and we encourage anyone connected to horses to take part in the consultation. By so doing, you will have your voice heard and be contributing to a change for the better for horse welfare.”
The consultation also seeks broader views on all aspects of equine ID and traceability.
A Defra spokesman told H&H: “We are proposing changes to equine identification and traceability in England with the aim of improving the health and welfare of horses.”
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