40.Over the past 50 years the movement of horses across European borders has evolved to become a standardised practice in horse sport, racing and breeding. Prior to the end of the transition period the majority of movements within the EU occurred between France, Ireland and Great Britain, under a system known as the Tripartite Agreement (TPA). The TPA enabled the movement of horses with high health status, and on average there were more than 26,000 annual thoroughbred movements between these countries.
41.Beyond the TPA, horses were moved elsewhere in the European Union using the EU Balai Directive. The Directive requires equines to travel with two documents: an ID document (passport); and either an Intra-Community Trade Animal Health Certificate (ITAHC) or a veterinary attestation. These documents confirm fitness to travel and absence of disease. Horses were not required to move through a Border Control Post (BPC) under either the TPA or the Balai Directive.
42.The TPA ceased alongside the transition period, and as a non-EU Member State the UK is unable to use the Balai Directive EU. Under the Northern Ireland protocol the movement of horses between Great Britain and Northern Ireland is now regulated by the EU’s Sanitary and Phytosanitary controls (SPS). This means that when a horse moves between Great Britain and the European Union or Northern Ireland:
43.Furthermore, on 21 April 2021 the EU’s new Animal Health Law (Regulation (EU) 2016/429) (AHL) came into force. It aims to prevent and control animal diseases that can be transmitted to animals or humans. Under its provisions, when a horse moves between Great Britain and the European Union or Northern Ireland it must also be tested for certain diseases, like equine infectious anaemia or equine viral arteritis before export and have the correct equine identification documents.
44.We asked witnesses about the impact of the SPS checks and the requirements of the Animal Health Law. Their responses were wide ranging:
45.The British Horseracing Authority warned that in the long term the administrative and cost barriers created by the SPS and animal health regulations could endanger the status of the British equine industry. Ross Hamilton, Head of Public Affairs at the British Horseracing Authority, told us that “we are at the pinnacle of a very competitive international industry” and these barriers put the industry at a “competitive disadvantage” which could cost “hundreds of millions of pounds if this cannot be resolved in the medium to long term”.
46.Witnesses told us that the implementation of an international agreement to allow the frictionless movement of ‘high health status’ horses would be an optimal solution to this issue. The concept of ‘high health status’ horses is defined by The World Organisation for Animal Health (OIE), the intergovernmental organisation responsible for improving animal health worldwide. The principle of ‘high health status’ horses is that the designated equines are “of a permanent high health and welfare status” that there is no biosecurity risk in moving them across borders. Jan Rodgers told us that “It is an international concept and widely understood.” She explained that the concept could be a “logical replacement for the tripartite agreement” and that it could be used to create a regional agreement which would allow for the expedited movement of horses without them having to follow the full SPS process. Professor Christine Middlemiss, the Chief Veterinary Officer for the UK supported an agreement on ‘high health status’ horses. She said that the new system should be EU wide rather than “just about specific countries.” She noted that there “would be a lot of administration and standards-setting to get those common parameters” but that the practicalities had been discussed at The World Organisation for Animal Health.
47.Ross Hamilton explained that an agreement is also desired by industry groups across Europe. He told us that “France and Ireland are absolutely pushing their own Governments and the European Commission … I think the representations continue to be very strong, certainly from the French and Irish racing industries.”
48.Lord Benyon told the Committee that the “The high-health-status approach is one that we can see a resolution to in time.” He welcomed the support of industry lobbying which he said had “managed to get hard evidence to the Commission and has had a very favourable response, right from the top.”
49.Britain is a leading player in the global equestrian market, which provides significant economic benefits to the UK. The Government must enable the expedited movement of ‘high health status’ horses across Europe to protect this industry. An agreement on high health status horses would benefit all parties involved and has been advocated by the British, Irish and French racing and breeding industries to the highest levels of the European Commission. The Government should work with the EU to formulate an agreement on ‘high health status’ horses as quickly as possible. This agreement should be based on a system which is digital by design and easy to use. The Government should adopt a pragmatic and practical stance in pursuit of this goal.
50.World Horse Welfare (WHW), the RSPCA and the Countryside Alliance explained that some horses were nominally being exported for sale in Europe but, in reality, were being sent to slaughter. It is currently legal to export a horse for slaughter, however, there have been no declarations of horses being exported for slaughter for many years. The British Horse Council said it questions “the reality of this as horses and ponies are exported for a variety of reasons and there is no way to guarantee that a horse declared as being exported for riding will not be sold at a market for meat.” WHW suggest that there are several reasons why horses are illicitly moved into Europe, including for the profits of selling them into the food supply chain and because slaughter is cheaper in Europe.
51.Roly Owers told us that “there is one dealer who will make weekly trips to the EU. They have a box that can take between 18 and 20 horses. They will often be double-loaded, so that could be up to 40. If you look at that over a year, you are looking at between 1,000 and 2,000 equines being transported. That is just one dealer. We believe we are only scratching the surface.”
52.Roly Owers was also clear that smuggling endangers the welfare of the horses involved. He explained that:
some of these non-compliant vehicles will be overweight. The competence of the driver is often questionable and therefore the movement is extremely rough. There will be significant injuries to horses, which we have seen at first hand at some border control posts on the continent. They will not be getting the proper rest stops—which under current law need to be every nine hours—or then, every 24 hours, getting a stop, obviously with ad-lib food and water through that journey.
53.We asked equine experts if they knew how many horses are being illegally moved across Britain’s borders. Roly Owers Chief Executive of WHW said “no one knows”. Steve Dann, Director National Operations HQ, Border Force told the Committee Border Force had no intelligence on horse smuggling. He said, “It is very difficult, then, to assign resources or even form part of an intelligence assessment as to any activity that may or may not be required.” APHA said it is “difficult to follow through and detect” smuggling if they are moved for purposes other than that registered on the certificate.
54.We have been told that there are horses being illicitly moved across Britain’s borders and being sent to slaughter under the guise of being sold for other purposes. Defra should investigate non-compliant horse movements and quantify the scale and causes of the practice. This work should take place in collaboration with industry groups like World Horse Welfare who have developed intelligence and expertise on horse smuggling. Once the scale of the issue has been identified, Defra should set out a plan to address it within a year, and no later.
55.Every horse, pony, donkey, ass, zebra and mule requires an ‘equine passport’. The document describes the animal by breed, colour, species, lists all vaccinations and names the registered owner. Since 2018 horse owners have also been required to microchip their animals.
56.Passports are issued through 81 Passport Issuing Organisations, a registered organisation or studbook that issues horse passports, and should be with the animal at all time. Equine Register, a database organisation, manages their collective information on the Central Equine Database on behalf of Defra. However, Roly Owers told us that many horses do not have a passport, that the current system is “as leaky as a sieve” and that there is “significant fraud.” He said, “We certainly know of transporters who will transport horses—different horses—on the same passports.”
57.Witnesses told us that many of the passport issuing organisations use paper-based systems, which has led to many inaccuracies because it is hard to keep the systems up to date. Jan Rogers said that “we know that there are about a million horses in the UK. There are more data records on the central database than there are horses, so some of those will have passed away, and there will be a number on there that don’t actually have passports that aren’t identified either.”
58.Roly Owers also told us that local authorities, who are responsible for making sure horses are registered, could better enforce the system of identification and incentivise owners to register their horses by making more use of their fixed penalties powers for those that do not comply. He said that currently “many people think that the horse ID system is a bit of a joke because it is so poorly enforced. So enforcement is critical.”
59.In the ‘Animal Welfare Action Plan’, which Defra published in May 2021, the Government committed to a consultation on “changes to equine identification and traceability to improve biosecurity and animal welfare.” Witnesses were clear that the identification system that flows from this consultation should be digital. Ross Hamilton said that the industry would like “an e-passport system that is capable of acting as a lifetime digital document for a thoroughbred, encompassing identification, vaccination, medical records, movement and ownership information.” He highlighted that the horseracing industry has been developing these digital systems and that “there is lots of potential there in terms of working with Defra” and that the industry has been developing a system that “can speak to both UK and EU systems.“
60.Jan Rodgers explained that a digital system would help to enable an agreement on ‘high health status horses’ because it would create a centralised record of the horses health information, while also creating traceability, as it would allow a system to record a horse’s, “movements from their point of origin, from the premises where they originate to the venue that they have attended.” Roly Owers noted that while this kind of digital traceability should expedite the legal movement of horses it should also make it easier to prevent horse smuggling by allowing “intelligence and focus” to be moved to “non-compliant equine movements.” Jan Rodgers said that ideally the identification system should be accessed on a smart phone to make it as easy and simple to use as possible. She went on to explain that the system must be truly digital, unlike the system of export health certificates which had a “digital front end” but, in reality, create pages of often redundant paperwork.
61.When asked about working with the equine industry to develop a digital identification system Lord Benyon said that “I absolutely want to do everything I can to try to resolve this, not just for racing but for the wider equestrian world.” Gareth Baynham-Hughes, Director, Animal and Plant Health and Welfare at Defra said that “The review of the equine ID traceability regime will definitely be an increasing priority later in the year.”
62.The current system of equine ID is not fit for purpose. Its outdated and fragmented paper systems enable fraud. A digital identification system would help to prevent horse smuggling and enable the expedited movement of ‘high health status’ horses. The mandatory microchipping of equines facilitates a digital identification system, which we believe is available at the moment. Defra should move to this system as a matter of urgency. The proposals put forward in Defra’s upcoming equine identification consultation should be digital by design and easy to use, except in exceptional circumstances, such as the studbook network which is vital for the support of native, rare and indigenous breeds. It is our understanding that these systems already exist within the industry. The Government should embrace these systems or guarantee interoperability with them. Alongside this new identification system Defra should develop a funded action plan to enforce the identification rules. The consultation should be published within the next three months and the action plan should be published within three months of the consultation’s conclusion.
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91 [Ross Hamilton]
92 [Ross Hamilton]
93 [Ross Hamilton], [Jan Rodgers]
94 [Ross Hamilton]
95 [Jan Rodgers]
96 [Jan Rodgers]
97 [Jan Rodgers]
98 [Roly Owers]
99 [Roly Owers]
100 [Ross Hamilton]
101 [Roly Owers], [Jan Rodgers], [Ross Hamilton]
102 [Professor Middlemiss]
103 International Horse Sport Confederation, , accessed September 2021
104 [Jan Rodgers]
105 [Jan Rodgers]
106 [Professor Middlemiss]
107 [Professor Middlemiss]
108 [Ross Hamilton]
109 [Lord Benyon]
110 [Lord Benyon]
111 RSPCA , Countryside alliance , World Horse Welfare , (accessed September 2021)
112 RSPCA 
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114 World Horse Welfare 
115 [Roly Owers]
116 [Roly Owers]
117 [Roly Owers]
118 [Steve Dann]
119 [Ian Hewitt]
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121 HM Government, (Accessed September 2021)
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125 [Roly Owers]
126 [Roly Owers]
127 [Jan Rodgers]
128 [Jan Rodgers]
129 [Roly Owers]
130 [Roly Owers]
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132 [Ross Hamilton]
133 [Ross Hamilton]
134 [Jan Rodgers]
135 [Roly Owers]
136 [Jan Rodgers]
137 [Jan Rodgers]
138 [Gareth Baynham-Hughes]
139 [Gareth Baynham-Hughes]