Work ongoing as Brexit delays spark horse welfare concerns *H&H Plus*

  • Those travelling horses abroad since Britain left the EU have reported delays, on top of the extra costs and paperwork. H&H finds out from government and industry bodies what is being done about the issues

    DELAYS at borders are causing welfare concerns as the equine industry negotiates post-Brexit realities.

    Mixed experiences with waiting times at EU border control posts (BCP), an approximate 300% increase in costs and new paperwork are having a real impact.

    Last year, the racing and wider equestrian industries advised against moving horses “for at least the first two weeks of 2021 unless absolutely necessary”. Two months on and with international horse sport and the thoroughbred breeding season ongoing, people are managing, but improvements to the system are needed.

    British Equestrian (BEF) has flagged urgent issues “for immediate review”. These include trimming the 33-page export health certificate (EHC), which ties up vets’ time, and addressing the fact these need to be manually sent to BCPs to book a slot.

    “Some have passed through [BCPs] within an hour of arrival, others have had to wait for several hours with horses already tired from travelling, which is not in the best interests of equine welfare. The processes can be improved and we’ll be driving this forward,” said a BEF spokesman, adding that it is also working on establishing a telephone “hotline” with Defra’s help, so anyone transporting horses can seek instant help.

    The BEF is also calling on people to share their experiences so it can collate that evidence and data, which the British Horse Council (BHC) can take to policymakers in the hope of improving the situation. The Government’s environment, food and rural affairs committee (EFRA) is also asking for input from the equestrian world for an inquiry scrutinising the Brexit impact on live animal exports.

    The Calais BCP was set up to cope with around three trucks an hour, or six horses every half-hour, and a timeslot is allocated to trucks before they board a ferry. But in practice, the situation is not always as streamlined. For example, if there are many lorries on a ferry, or ferries arriving at a similar time, that need to go through the same post, that means some may have a longer wait than others for their allocated slot.

    Five more BCPs are being built in France, and one in Rotterdam is expected to open soon.

    A World Horse Welfare spokesman told H&H it has “grave concern”.

    “Although the stabling [at Calais] is of reasonable quality, it is insufficient to deal with the numbers of horses – at a time when numbers moving are much lower than normal due to the pandemic,” he said.

    “Concerns have also been raised that there are insufficient vets to man some of the BCPs. Other options, such as flying horses or travelling via Eurotunnel, are still available [where horses go through different BCPs] but both are very much more expensive and prices have risen still further since 1 January.”

    A spokesman for the French ministry of agriculture, agrifood, and forestry told H&H its BCPs were designed to deal with three trucks of horses an hour, so it is possible for many more than three horses to be inspected in this time.

    “Significant work was carried out during the preparation phase for Brexit to enable animal controls to be carried out, while respecting the need for traffic flow,” he added. “Proposals for the appropriate control of horses with a high health status [racehorses, horses for international competition and breeding] have been made by France to the European Commission.”

    These proposals feed into British hopes that new EU animal health laws, which come into force in April, may help smooth out some issues.

    Jan Rogers, of the BHC, explained there is scope for more paperwork to be digitalised, as well as the chance possibly to work out new agreements for the movement of high health status horses.

    “What we are experiencing now is the immediate aftermath of becoming a third country,” said Ms Rogers, adding that work is happening to improve the situation, but that it will likely take time, and echoed the BEF and EFRA inquiry’s calls for people to send in evidence.

    “Send us what you have in whatever the best way is for you,” she said, adding that this can include photos or videos from mobile phones.

    “If we get that [evidence] all in one place, that is then a really powerful resource for us.”

    Ms Rogers said this is also important as Britain’s BCPs will open in July and it is vital lessons are learnt from issues at the EU versions.

    H&H contacted Lord Gardiner of Kimble, minister for rural affairs and biosecurity, to ask if he would like to comment on the Brexit-related transport issues and associated welfare concerns, or any of the other Brexit-related issues H&H has covered.

    A Defra press officer responded: “We have extensively engaged with the equine sector and are continuing to work closely. To ensure movements to EU countries can continue as smoothly as possible, we have implemented a range of initiatives to increase the number of certifiers to meet demand for export health certification.”

    The spokesman said the number of official vets able to sign EHCs has increased from around 600 in February 2019, to approximately 1,700, and protecting animal welfare in transport, including contingency plans, is transporters’ legal duty.

    “We are working closely with the sector to identify if short-term support is needed and required,” he said.

    H&H asked if Defra wished to comment specifically regarding delays and issues at BCPs.

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