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Horse passports: spin-off benefits of a daft EU law

Friday 28 November 2003

The UK is about to introduce compulsory horse passports - to stop unfit horsemeat getting into the human food chain. But there are major spin-off benefits for British horse owners, says our countryside commentator John Sheard

FROM June next year, every horse in Britain will need its very own passport. Without it, the animal's owner or owners could face a £5,000 fine or a month in jail - thanks to new legislation from (of course) the European Union.

If that doesn't sound daft enough, listen to the reason for this new loop of Brussels red tape: it is to stop the meat from unfit horses being sold for human consumption!

Now we all know that those awful Frenchies and some of their Latin mates scoff horsemeat but the very thought of doing so sets British teeth on edge. In fact, it has been quoted in the past as an example of the superiority of British civilisation over the heathen practices of mainland Europe.

Getting horsey his passport – Picture courtesy CLA.

Why this Government chose to adopt it into UK law is a total mystery to me: one can only put it down to Tony Blair's inability to stand up to the French-German bullies who now dominate the EU (and, on other fronts, seem on the verge of destroying it).

But it will become law in June next year and, this being Britain, it will no doubt be enforced with the full weight of the law whereas it will be totally ignored across the water, at least in southern Europe. Perhaps the Iron Chancellor looks upon it as way of extracting new stealth taxes from country folk.

However, on what is as far as I can recall an almost unique occasion, this daft piece of Euro-think will have - by accident, of course - some real benefits from British horse owners and, indeed, for their mounts.

In recent years, there has been an alarming increase in the number of horses and ponies being stolen as crime soars in the countryside. The gangs which steal the animals also, if they get the chance, help themselves to any tack that is lying around in unguarded stables.

Good animals are very expensive and the tack they need almost prohibitively so. For rural thieves, a night's rustling can mean a bill for the owners running into many thousands of pounds.

Quite where these stolen animals go is not known for sure but I have my suspicions. There are dodgy riding stables all over the country, particularly close to the big cities, which need a never-ending supply of new mounts.

Some undoubtedly end up for sale at events like the Appleby Horse Fair in Cumbria - and most people in the Yorkshire Dales have seen the state of some of those animals on the way to and from the fair. Last year, I personally called the RSPCA to two animals which had been left tethered in full sunlight without water from dawn until dusk.

Careful owners have for many years been able to freeze brand their animals, which make them easy to identify should they ever be recovered. Many don't bother - and pay the price.

But now that every horse will need a passport, the job of the police, the RSPCA and other animal welfare bodies will be made much easier. Stealing horses - and their tack - will become a much more risky occupation, which could safe country folk hundreds of thousands - even millions - of pounds in the long run.

And the good news is that the Country Land and Business Association (the CLA) this week issued simple advice on how to get a horse passport for a mere £14 - and no vet's examination required.

Necessary forms can be downloaded from the Internet at www.horsepassportagency.org or requested via the Defra helpline on 08459 335577. If you have a recognised breed, you can also contact your breed society.

Says CLA North West official Sue Harrison: "Many people appear to be under the misapprehension that the form must be completed by a Vet. This is not so - the process is relatively straightforward although you will need to obtain a form and allow yourself an hour or so to complete it before sending it off with your cheque for £14."

Amazing. The EU and Defra have done something useful for a change. By accident, of course!

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