An Effective Horse Identification System
World Horse Welfare has long been aware of problems with the horse passport system – and has been raising these concerns with government for some time. Our report, Removing the Blinkers, looked into the size of the EU's equine population and found that across the EU there was a discrepancy of more than 3 million between the lowest and highest estimates. A properly functioning system of identification should have a much smaller margin of error.
Without a robust identification system, horses are vulnerable to abuse and neglect, as it is often impossible to find the person who should be held responsible for health and welfare issues. The lack of identification also raises the risk that disease outbreaks will get out of control - knowing where animals are is vital to controlling outbreaks quickly, before a large number of horses can be affected.
Without a passport or microchip, the person responsible for this foal is unlikely to be found
What is wrong with the passport system we have?
The passport system has long been open to fraud and abuse and is not fit for purpose. This is because it is very easy to get a duplicate passport and also very easy to tamper with or produce fake passports.
- There is little consistency between passports issued by the UK’s 75+ Passport Issuing Organisations (PIOs) which makes enforcement more difficult than it needs to be.
- There is a wide range of passport quality, with many passports, particularly those for the purpose of ‘ID only’, easily tampered with or reproduced on home printers. Some PIOs have been implicated in the production of fraudulent passports.
- Enforcement of the rules has been seen as a low priority by local authorities due to restricted resources.
- Problems with the passport system are so widespread that it is held in contempt by many horse owners, and seen as pointless bureaucracy which only penalises those who choose to abide by the law.
- In a recent survey of UK horse owners carried out on behalf of the Equine Sector Council for Health and Welfare shows that the law is generally poorly understood by horse owners, vets, enforcement bodies and the meat trade and many of the fundamental requirements are ignored by PIOs.
The horse meat scandal prompted Defra and the European Commission to launch separate reviews of equine identification and World Horse Welfare, as part of the Equine Sector Council, is now working with Defra to overhaul the system in the UK. The European Commission has now put a new equine identification regulation into place, which will ensure that every Member State - including the United Kingdom - must have a Central Equine Database.
Why does a database matter?
A Central Equine Database is an invaluable tool for passport production, enforcement and the prevention of the spread of equine disease. The demise of the UK's database after Defra’s withdrawal of funding has caused great difficulties.
- Passports must be simple to assess and verify within minutes – and there must be more stringent methods to ensure that duplicate passports are not issued
- It is now no longer possible to check passport details quickly and easily: instead, it is necessary to write to Defra, who in turn must contact every Passport Issuing Organisation in the UK (there are more than 75 of these).
- Unsurprisingly, delays of many days or even weeks are now commonplace since funding was withdrawn. This poses great difficulties to enforcement bodies and equine welfare organisations trying to check passport details quickly and accurately and to find the owner of a stray animal.
- Checks which used to take minutes now take at least a week – if not weeks, when in practice identification is often required immediately by local authorities, the Animal Health and Veterinary Laboratories Agency (AHVLA), the police, the Vehicle and Operator Services Agency (VOSA) and the Food Standards Agency (FSA) when they are undertaking enforcement activity on the roads, at ports, markets or abattoirs.
What does World Horse Welfare want to see?
We want to see a robust, properly enforced equine identification system in the UK with a central equine database. There should be clear guidance, effective communication of what the law requires and robust enforcement.
The central database must be robust and user-friendly, allowing horse owners to update their details online.
We believe that retrospective microchipping - that is microchipping of horses born before 2009 - would make the system a great deal more useful.