Numerous scandals, lack of enforcement and confusion of the passport system – what is being done to resolve the issues and how important are passports? Emmeline Hannelly reports
In order to strengthen the passport regulations introduced in 2004, the EU implemented additional requirements including the microchipping of foals and horses when applying for a passport from 1 July, 2009.
The aim was to ensure the cohesion of horses with the passport and at that time the National Equine Database (NED). The focus was to reduce fraud and ensure horses only had one passport issued to them.
Although the United Kingdom (UK) does not have a culture of eating horsemeat, the purpose of horse passports is to protect the food chain and ensure that no horses treated with certain drugs - for example, phenylbutazone (bute) - are slaughtered for human consumption.
Alarmed by the Government’s decision to remove funding for NED at the end of September 2012, the equestrian industry warned this would plunge the passport system into chaos. Then, in 2013, the horsemeat scandal caused huge outrage concerning animal welfare and consumer safety.
Many horse owners abiding by the passport legislation were left bewildered and angry at the ease with which fraud occurred.
The Government was quick to respond, and working with the Equine Sector Council for Health & Welfare (which the BHS is a member of), the need to make major improvements to the system was agreed.
New proposals approved by the EU in September 2014 will see the introduction of a central equine database. This is excellent news and the BHS will continue to lobby government to ensure the enforcement of this regulation is set as a high priority.
In addition, to help decrease fraud, new minimum operating standards have been issued to all approved Passport Issuing Organisations (PIO) in the UK.
Horse owners fully compliant with the law are often left frustrated by the lack of enforcement.
Within the UK, The Meat Hygiene Service is responsible for enforcing the checks carried out at slaughterhouses. In all other circumstances local authorities, often Trading Standards, are responsible for enforcing the legislation.
With the loss of NED, Trading Standards Officers are left with what many often describe as an almost impossible task of enforcing the legislation.
However, other than ensuring you comply with the law, what purpose do passports serve?
The law states that the passport must be kept with the horse, or in circumstances when the horse is kept out at pasture, stabled or moved on foot, the passport must be made available within three hours of the request by an enforcement officer.
In everyday horse management, there is the potential for your horse’s passport to be required, so it is important to ensure your ownership details are officially recorded in the passport.
In the event of your horse requiring veterinary treatment, the vet must check Section IX of the passport. If the declaration has been signed as ‘not intended for human consumption’, specific drugs can be administered to the horse. If the horse owner/keeper fails to produce the passport, this denies the vet’s ability to verify the status of Section IX.
Therefore, under the legislation, vets can only administer medication that is approved for food producing animals, which may not be as effective when compared with other options.
Many horse owners are fortunate enough to transport their horses to numerous different events. When travelling your horse, the driver must ensure all horses are accompanied by their passport.
Failure to do so is not only an offence, but in the event of a breakdown, professional transport companies have the right to deny transporting any horse that is not accompanied by its passport – a frightening prospect for any driver stranded on the side of a busy road.
The only exception when the passport is not required is when the horse is being transported for emergency veterinary treatment.
Insurance companies will request the passport in the event of a mortality claim to make specific checks, including ownership, within the passport. The insurance company is then responsible for returning the passport to the original PIO within 30 days of the death of the horse.
It’s important to remember that foals must have a passport within six months of their birth, or before 31 December of the year in which they were born, whichever date occurs later. The BHS is an approved PIO and can issue passports to horses of unknown breeding.
It is a legal requirement that any changes to the ownership details are made within 30 days of buying a new horse, owner moving home address or owner name change. To do this, contact the relevant PIO for further details on their administration processes for the passport to be updated.
With continued commitment from Defra, it is anticipated that the passport legislation will become more enforceable - so double check your passports and ensure you are compliant with the law.
To apply for, or make updates to a BHS passport, call 02476 840517 or email firstname.lastname@example.org. Find out more in our dedicated Passports section.