The British Horse Society has expressed its full support of the Scottish Government’s proposal to ban hot branding.
Acknowledging that further research on physical and mental stressors would be useful, in matters of equine welfare the BHS prefers the precautionary principle: “If we do not know whether or not an act is injurious to the overall detriment of the welfare of a horse, but have good reason to believe it may be, then for the horses’ sake we will assume that the act is injurious until the contrary is proved.” In the case of hot branding the BHS believe there is little doubt that the application of hot irons to an animal causes unjustifiable pain.
The BHS notes that the arguments in favour of hot branding for the purposes of identification are weakened by the limitations of the method: a brand may be difficult to read from a distance and can be obscured by the thick winter coat grown by horses during the winter. On the other hand, a microchip implanted in the nuchal ligament offers definitive identification, with the insertion of such microchips perceived to be less of a physical stressor than the process of hot branding.
Graham Cory, Former Chief Executive of The British Horse Society, said previously: “Whereas some will point to the practical difficulties inherent in other methods of identification, The British Horse Society cannot condone a practice which elevates the convenience of the owner to a position above the welfare of the horse.”
The BHS’s response to the consultation is as follows:
“The British Horse Society is grateful for the opportunity to comment on the proposal to outlaw the hot branding of equidae in Scotland.
“The British Horse Society is in full support of the Scottish Government’s proposal to rescind the Prohibited Procedures on Protected Animals (Exemptions) (Scotland) Regulations 2007 with reference to the hot branding of horses. We welcome the suggestion that the provision to issue specific authorisations allowing hot branding be removed from statute.
“It is essential that horses can be accurately identified for a number of welfare reasons and in order that animals of proven genetic merit can be singled out for breeding purposes. A number of breed societies advocate hot branding to identify valuable bloodlines and the BHS fully recognises the importance of responsible breeding from correct stock. However, the Society considers that there are other means by which identification can be achieved.
“In recent times the practice of hot branding has received increased attention due to its implications for equine welfare. Although there has been little scientific research conducted into hot branding there can be little doubt that the application of hot irons to an animal causes pain. It is difficult to justify the intentional inflicting of pain to any animal for purposes other than essential veterinary treatment. The BHS does not consider accurate identification to be a sufficient justification for causing pain.
“The arguments in favour of hot branding for the purposes of identification are weakened by the limitations of the method: a brand may be difficult to read from a distance and can be obscured by the thick winter coat grown by horses during the winter.
“There are a number of alternatives to hot branding that may be considered more humane. A microchip implanted in the nuchal ligament offers definitive identification, with the insertion of such microchips perceived to be less of a physical stressor than the process of hot branding. Whereas the reading of microchips currently necessitates a handler being in close proximity to the horse – a potential problem when it comes to dealing with feral animals – the fact that Scotland is not the home to any truly feral equine populations this is not a legitimate reason to continue to permit hot branding in Scotland.
“The British Veterinary Association has been unequivocal in its stance on hot branding with the British Equine Veterinary Association also speaking out to decry the practice. The BHS recognises the value of professional veterinary opinion on this issue and is pleased to align itself with the BVA and BEVA.
“In summary, the British Horse Society is opposed to the practice of hot branding of equidae and supports the Scottish Government’s proposal to cease the issuing of specific authorisations."