Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee
Oral evidence: Moving animals across borders, HC 79
Tuesday 18 May 2021
Ordered by the House of Commons to be published on 18 May 2021. Watch the meeting
Members present: Neil Parish (Chair); Ian Byrne; Geraint Davies; Dave Doogan; Rosie Duffield; Dr Neil Hudson; Robbie Moore; Mrs Sheryll Murray; Derek Thomas.
I: Ross Hamilton, Head of Public Affairs, British Horseracing Authority; Roly Owers, Chief Executive, World Horse Welfare; and Jan Rogers, Director of Research and Policy, The Horse Trust.
II: David Bowles, Head of Public Affairs and Campaigns, RSPCA; Paula Boyden BVetMed MRCVS, Veterinary Director, Dogs Trust; and Maggie Roberts, Director of Veterinary Services, Cats Protection.
Written evidence from witnesses:
Witnesses: Ross Hamilton, Roly Owers and Jan Rogers.
Q54 Chair: Welcome to this EFRA Committee session, dealing with animal welfare and the movement of animals across borders. We are dealing this afternoon with horses and, more generally, dogs, cats and pets crossing our borders as well. Welcome, everybody. Our first panel is made up of Ross Hamilton, Roly Owers and Jan Rogers. Jan, if you would like to introduce yourself—ladies first—and then we will get Roly and Ross to do the same.
Jan Rogers: Thank you; that is very kind of you, Chair. I am Jan Rogers. I am employed by the Horse Trust and I am a member of the British Horse Council, alongside Roly Owers. I am giving evidence today from the British Horse Council on the basis of the work we have been carrying out supporting the challenges that have arisen during the first quarter of this year, plus my experience as an employee of British Equestrian, where I was actively involved with the movements of horses for sport and breeding, plus the movement of germinal products and also the administration of the former tripartite agreement. BHC has collated information from across the sector since transition end. We have been actively involved in Government liaison and engaging with our contacts on the continent to find solutions.
Chair: Thank you very much, Jan. Shall we have Roly, then, please?
Roly Owers: Thank you, Chair. I am Roly Owers, chief executive of World Horse Welfare, and I am, as Jan said, also on the British Horse Council. I am giving evidence today from that background, but also from my involvement with the Equine Disease Coalition—which has very good engagement with the Government veterinary teams in Scotland, Wales, Northern Ireland and England—and the European Horse Network, which has good engagement across the European continent equestrian sector.
Chair: Thank you very much, Roly. Ross, please.
Ross Hamilton: Good afternoon, Chair. My name is Ross Hamilton, I am the head of public affairs at the British Horseracing Authority, the governing and regulatory body for thoroughbred horse racing in England, Scotland and Wales. My role is leading on Government engagement and liaison, as well as policy development—one of those areas has, of course, been in relation to the UK’s withdrawal from the European Union—and the implementation of the animal health law, and animal welfare more generally.
I am a member of the Thoroughbred Industries Brexit Steering Group, which has been leading on the industry’s preparations for the UK’s withdrawal from the EU, monitoring the impact of it on our industry, working proactively with our colleagues, particularly in France and Ireland,
on solutions to some of the difficulties we are facing, and taking advantage of some of the opportunities that may arise in the months ahead.
Q55 Chair: Thank you very much, Ross. In a way, your introduction leads very neatly into my first question, which is about these new animal health rules since we have left the European Union. How is the horse world, particularly equestrian and racing horses, coping in the brave new world? I will bring you in first, Ross, and then come back to Jan and Roly.
Ross Hamilton: First of all, it is very difficult to completely disaggregate the impact of covid and Brexit on thoroughbred movement during the last few months. That has been quite a challenge, but there are some clear signs and statistics that give an idea of the scale of movement we were engaging with in the thoroughbred industry beforehand, under the pre- existing tripartite agreement that had been in place since the 1960s. This covered both thoroughbred and sport horse movement between Great Britain, France and Ireland. There were some 26,000 thoroughbred movements annually between those three countries, and about 80% of those movements were taking place predominantly for breeding purposes. In the thoroughbred industry, this has to be via natural means.
In terms of quantification of the impacts we have seen, overall, British runners in EU countries are down 51% for the first four months of this year, compared with the equivalent period in 2019, and runners from the EU in Great Britain are down around 40%. Non-racing movements—for breeding purposes—from Great Britain to the EU are down about 59%, and movements into Great Britain from the EU are down about 65%. So, there are quite significant reductions.
Of course, that coincides with lockdowns in many of those jurisdictions in 2021, so it would be difficult to disaggregate. What is clear at the moment is that, at least in the short term, there has been an increase in the paperwork and administration required to move thoroughbreds. That is proving more difficult for some of the smaller operations in the industry. Our advice as a steering group was to seek the advice of a professional shipper or transporter in undertaking movements, given the lateness with which the trading co-operation agreement was agreed, and that advice has largely been followed. That is an idea of some of the early quantification of movements we have seen in the thoroughbred sector.
Q56 Chair: I imagine that for thoroughbred breeding, there are quite a lot of stallions in particular and mares, I imagine, moved for breeding purposes. It must be quite seriously affecting the potential for breeding thoroughbred horses across Europe and Britain, mustn’t it?
Ross Hamilton: Yes. As one example, we would have around 5,000 broodmare movements in the average covering season coming across to stallions based in Great Britain or, indeed, for moving to stallions based in other countries. Given the importance of the breeding industry to the British rural economy—it is worth more than £400 million a year to the British economy—it is critical for us that there are mechanisms in place
that allow that movement to take place, recognising the high animal health and welfare standards that are mandatory in our industry.
Q57 Chair: This is a blunt question, but is it possible to bring stallions in or move mares across for breeding, or is it so bureaucratic at the moment that it has just stopped? What is the situation?
Ross Hamilton: It is possible, and I think that, as the months have moved on since January and February, more of the operations are getting used to the additional procedures and protocols that are in place, and that has been encouraging. There are a number of very international, professional operations at the top end of thoroughbred breeding. However, we are conscious that there may be more of an impact on smaller breeding operations, particularly for movements between Britain and Ireland. That is a key part of the nexus of thoroughbred racing and breeding in this country, given our share of horses that are bred in Ireland and then come over to race in Great Britain. Anything that damages that ecosystem could be quite significantly challenging for our industry—not just, I would add, in Great Britain, but very much also for our colleagues in Ireland and France as well. It is not a zero-sum game.
Q58 Chair: Absolutely. Can I bring Jan in now, and then Roly? As far as horse welfare is concerned, what is the situation out there like?
Jan Rogers: Thank you very much, Chair. We can report in relation to the sport sector and other horses for sales and for recreational, which are very small numbers. The figures are about a third—so, 33%—of what they would have been in the first few months of the year. So, it has had a significant effect.
On the plus side, as mentioned by Ross, we advised people not to move in the early months of the year, so, specifically in January, people tended not to. In February, they began to move because they took the advice not to move in January to mean that it would be okay in February. When they started to move in February, that did not prove to be the case, understandably, so there was some consternation. There were a number of challenges, and UK shippers did a really good job in supporting the community through the increased complexities surrounding the production of the export health certificates, the new customs arrangements and the challenges in processing those movements through border control posts on the continent. On one level, people listened and it was good, and then on another level, those challenges then became apparent a little bit later in the year.
I think you specifically asked about the animal health law. Horses for competition, racing and cultural events would have benefitted from a derogation, but the effect of the export health certificates for the animal health law has now been put back to August, so that is beneficial. It has allowed the other aspects of this to bed in effectively.
You also asked about movements for breeding, which does not impact the sport sector quite as much as it does the thoroughbred sector. Most breedings are carried out through movement of germinal products and it is
equally important that we support those movements, because that is a vibrant industry. It provides a contribution to our economy and, going forward, in terms of developing the British-bred sport horse for sale and for international markets, it is important that impediments are not put in place of the movement of those germinal products.
Chair: Okay, thank you. Roly, please.
Roly Owers: Thank you, Chair. I know we are going to come on to talk about illegal movement shortly, so just keeping it more general to start with and picking up on the animal health law, there are some very positive developments within the animal health law, not least the registration of premises. However, clearly, transport is a stressful experience for all horses and, therefore, it is a huge concern that there are these significant delays building up at Calais, especially. The fact that those have been happening in the cold winter months is one issue. If the delays continue into the summer months, it will have a significantly increased impact on equine welfare, which is obviously something that we are extremely concerned about.
There is also an issue around the infrastructure and the resourcing of border control posts, because at the moment the enforcement checks are completely paper-based. Actually, the equine is not getting a look in at all. On these high health movements, as Ross and Jan have already talked about, there should be differentiation, so that the focus can be far more on intelligence-led enforcement rather than the paper chase that is currently going on.
Q59 Chair: If you are moving a horse now, once you have actually done the paperwork, however complicated that might be, you can largely move it, can you? If you are moving it across to Calais, do you face an awful lot of stops and checks, like we were seeing with seafood and meat exports? What is the situation?
Roly Owers: The others will come in on this, but the critical issue is capacity at the moment. The border control post at Calais is open only between 8 and 6. They are reputedly saying that they can do 10 horses per half hour, but it rarely achieves that. When you get up to proper numbers over the summer, the system will become very quickly gridlocked.
Chair: Okay. Thank you for that; that is very clear. Let’s move on to Dave Doogan.
Q60 Dave Doogan: Many thanks, Chair. Can I ask the witnesses to update the Committee on what they anticipate happening if the rules and requirements for the movement of horses between the UK and the EU stay the same? What are the longer-term implications, both for horse racing and for equestrianism? If possible, could our witnesses separate those projected consequences into the effect that they might have on the more amateur end of horse ownership versus the more professional, commercial side?
Ross Hamilton: Certainly from the perspective of the thoroughbred industry, what we are absolutely keen to do is treat this not just as a trade issue for ourselves in horse racing. We are a £4 billion industry in the UK and are worth £300 million to the Scottish economy. We are keen also to treat this very much as a welfare matter, too, because as Roly was touching on, there are potentially critical welfare implications if delays continue during the warmer summer months—just to build on the point that Roly was making about the border control posts.
The majority of movements during the summer months would ideally take place overnight in lower temperatures and with less traffic. The fact that those are going to have to be moved during the daytime, in the hotter hours of the day, could have consequences for horse welfare, which is absolutely the last thing that anyone working in the thoroughbred industry or the wider equine sector would like to see.
In terms of the wider economic consequences, we in British racing are certainly conscious that we are at the pinnacle of a very competitive international industry. If we are not able to compete internationally because of additional requirements that are put in place for our participants to compete abroad and that are not reciprocated by the UK Government, it could set British racing at a competitive disadvantage. Because there were systems that worked extremely well for many decades and that can be replicated again under the provisions of the trade and co- operation agreement, we hope that that could be reflected in future changes under the new SPS committee that has been formed. But the value to the British economy that we are talking about is hundreds of millions of pounds if this cannot be resolved in the medium to long term.
Roly Owers: I would reiterate that, from the perspective of welfare, there are significant concerns if changes are not made. As Ross has just said, this is an area where there is a virtuous circle of equine health, equine welfare and the economic interest of the sector. They can potentially support each other through improved systems, one of which I know we will come on to: the digital equine ID and traceability system. But there are some fundamental pieces of the jigsaw that need to be put in place to make sure that it does not do damage to the equine sector and also do significant damage to equine health and welfare at the same time.
Q61 Dave Doogan: Roly, can you identify a significant gap between the more commercial end of this enterprise and the more small-scale type of operation?
Roly Owers: I think we are going to come to it in a second. There is obviously the movement of elite sport horses—race and sport horses—and we certainly support that sort of high health differentiation. But at the other end of the market, much of it is under the radar, which we will come to talk about in a second. In reality, when we look at the leisure sector, there is not much compliant movement of animals across to mainland Europe. That is not quite the same as between Great Britain and Northern Ireland, but it certainly is the case with the rest of the EU.
Jan Rogers: I can add a little more. Probably the biggest increase will be in costs. In order to process the additional documentation, to service the requirements at the border control posts, and to engage official veterinarians to complete the certificates for the movement, cost increases are at least double in every case. That impacts on the professional end and, indeed, on the amateur competitor as well. It can be as much as 300%, depending on when you travel and the route by which you travel— the route you are taking and where you are going, effectively. We have instances of it being as much as 300%, which makes it prohibitive.
The challenge, then, is that there is friction. When there is friction, people find alternative solutions, and that could mean moving horses by alternative routes, which could be longer and could involve longer sea crossings. We have anecdotal evidence that that is the case. We haven’t got hard figures, because hard figures are not available for those sorts of movements, but it is none the less a concern for the welfare of the horse that people take a less frictionful solution—if that is the correct word—in order to achieve their aim.
Roly has already mentioned the capacity at border control posts, and it does in fact transpire that they are not able to process the numbers that were projected. The streamlining of movements through border control posts is being looked at, and we are in contact, through international competitors, with the chief executive and president of the port of Calais, who has some ambitious plans to improve the transit through the port, including moving areas of inspection closer together so that they can be done in a one-stop shop, rather than having to transit between one and the other. Those changes will bed down and are really important. What is also important is that they are hearing the concerns we have surrounding the smoothness of the transit and the wellbeing of the horses.
It will have an impact on events in this country. This was specified by a number of people at the National Equine Forum this year, whereby events and shows are the backbone of our equestrian environment. Many competitors come from overseas, and the people who attend those shows and events go to see those international competitors participate. There are a lot of challenges with getting them here and getting them back, not least the increase in costs and the challenge around getting the volumes back in the timeframes that have been outlined by Ross. They would normally want to take night boats and to go back at specific times.
The doglegs and the challenges that is going to create in terms of volumes wanting to move at one particular time are quite off-putting and a real challenge for big shows and events. I am authorised to mention the Windsor Horse Show, because that is one of the biggest events and it is coming up in July.
They have a real concern about the increase in costs and in volumes that will have to be returned immediately after. In a minute, we will get on to ways of improving that, because every issue has a proposed solution. The solutions for this, which are supported both by colleagues on the continent and by the UK industry, are digital solutions.
Q62 Dave Doogan: Just two points of clarity from Jan. If I understand you correctly, it is a case of potentially travelling through the day rather than the night, and potentially taking a longer overland journey or making a longer sea crossing to facilitate a more expedient port of entry. Is that right?
Jan Rogers: Yes. We are hearing anecdotally that those challenges are already presenting themselves, but in the specific case study that I mentioned of that particular horse show, at the end of the event up to 200 horses leave the showground at once and they would normally take the night boat back to the continent. The sheer volume, plus the holiday traffic, plus the seasonality, gives shippers cause for real concern about how they can manage that mass transit of horses back to the continent, returning on those boats.
Q63 Dave Doogan: And the increase in costs, of a factor of between 1% and 300%—Are you hopeful that these will be resolved anytime soon and be mitigated to what they were previously, or similar?
Jan Rogers: If you want to see the full extent of the costs, British Equestrian did a cost comparison document that is published on their website and explains how they are broken down. When you look at that breakdown, you can understand that some of them will have to remain but some of them, which surround the complexity of the production of the export health certificate, could easily be reduced, if a digital solution could be brought about.
Dave Doogan: We have heard a lot about that in other witness sessions. Thank you very much indeed.
Q64 Mrs Murray: Jan, you have alluded to this; you obviously anticipated my question. What changes could be made by the UK Government to improve the movement of horses between Great Britain, Northern Ireland and the EU? I know you said we would come on to that, but I am asking you to come on to it now, please.
Jan Rogers: Thank you very much for the lead-in. If there were one word I could ask people to consider, it would be the development of “digital” systems. Just before we left the EU, before the end of the transition period, EHCo—Export Health Certificates Online—was launched. That effectively, to all intents and purposes, has a digital front end, but I mean “digital.” What is ultimately produced out of the back end is an export health certificate that is pages and pages long.
In practice, that certificate has to be completed by an official veterinarian in draft and then in final form, and possibly in another version in the middle, to be sent across to the border control post before the horse can move. Each paper has to be completed by hand. If the disease is not appropriate, each irrelevant page has to be struck off in a certain way. That takes an awful lot of time on the part of the official veterinarian.
That document is then received by the shipper. It has to be scanned down to 2 megabytes and transmitted across to the border control post so that
that movement process can begin and that horse can have an authorisation to move and to board the ferry. So what looks like a digital system is not a digital system.
What we are talking about is a real digital system. At the moment, you will know that we have what’s known as the central equine database. That is where all the data records for equidae in the UK with a passport are kept. It is a fully digital system. There are challenges with data quality in it, but that is a whole other thing.
Before we close, I want to bring to your attention the importance of considering the movement matters in conjunction with equine identification matters, because the two are inseparable. Fundamentally, if we have an accurate base data record for a horse, which is digital, that information can then, through application programming interfaces, be transferred through to certificate and customs systems. That means less keying in, less opportunity for error and speedier production. Therefore, we can expedite those processes massively without having to recreate new systems but by using the data that we already hold in the central equine database, which the Government have already procured and is superb.
Q65 Mrs Murray: My second question is how well have the Government worked with the EU to ensure that the movement of horses can continue?
Jan Rogers: Is that still to me, Sheryll?
Mrs Murray: To all of you. I am sorry, I should have said, if the other witnesses have anything to add to what Jan said, then please do so. I am sorry to have left you out.
Roly Owers: I am happy to jump in. Two things off the back of what Jan has said. In terms of what the Government could do, they could certainly consider looking at a common veterinary area between Great Britain, Northern Ireland and the EU. I think that would help protect equine health and welfare, but also really add oil to the wheels of equine movements between the UK and the EU.
Q66 Mrs Murray: You say, “what the Government could do”. Of course, that means that the EU would agree to that. Have you had any indication in any of your meetings with the EU or with people in other European countries that there would be agreement about this?
Roly Owers: The EU Commission Vice-President has gone on record saying they would certainly consider that. The indications are positive. It would be a fertile option to follow up with. I know that there is wide-scale agreement, certainly from the equine sector, on the establishment of a common veterinary area, but it relies on a digitised equine identification system.
The other area is around border control posts. At the moment, the focus is around Dover, but when we move forward and Great Britain starts inspecting animals coming into the country from next March, it is really important to have a good geographical spread of border control posts. By that, I mean on the east of the country for Harwich and Hull, because
hopefully Rotterdam will get a border control post approved soon and significant trade goes along that route. Obviously, in the south, in addition to Dover, there is Portsmouth; in the west of the country in Wales, there is Holyhead, Pembroke or Fishguard; and obviously there is Cairnryan in Scotland. So it is really important to have a properly infrastructured and resourced system of border control posts, because that is going to be key, potentially along with a common veterinary area, to really help smooth equine movements and focus enforcement, which we will come on to in a second.
Mrs Murray: Ross, do you have anything to add to that?
Ross Hamilton: Yes, I do. On those two questions, certainly, we completely agree with the views that Jan expressed about the challenges that the current paper-based systems are causing. Really, there are solutions available. In the thoroughbred sector, we already have, through Weatherbys, which acts as the general studbook for not only Britain but Ireland, 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. Much of that, in fact, has been put in place by the industry partly as a response to covid, because we were taking paper records away because transferring paper was potentially an issue when we restarted racing just under a year ago after our lockdown. There is lots of potential there in terms of working with DEFRA to make sure that the industry, like thoroughbred racing and like other sport horses at the elite end, have systems in place so that if they can speak to both UK and EU systems, that will help facilitate that movement or even enable pre-clearance of some description to help move those horses through.
More generally, in terms of our engagement with Government and how well they are engaged with the EU, we have been in regular contact with DEFRA, as many of us have been, over the last five years since the referendum, on the challenges that might be created as a result of withdrawal from the EU. Most of them we were able to anticipate and to come up with measures to try to mitigate some of those initial challenges. Now, under the new mechanisms in place through the trade and co- operation agreement, which I mentioned earlier, it is important that the Government continue to engage with industries like ours, as they have throughout, on the solutions that we have available, which are principally digital. That builds on the high health and welfare status that is fundamental to elite horse sport in Great Britain and is certainly the commitment of the thoroughbred racing industry going forward. We want to be engaged in that.
That ambition is shared on the part of thoroughbred horse racing by our counterparts in Ireland and France. We have been engaged in a taskforce that has put in representations at a European level as well, to outline how these systems can operate for the benefit of EU countries and the UK beyond our withdrawal from the EU.
Q67 Dr Hudson: Thank you to our witnesses for being with us today. First, I
will declare some interests in this area and refer people to my declaration of interests. I am a veterinary surgeon and a member of the British Equine Veterinary Association. I have very close links with the Horse Trust through research links and the British Horseracing Authority, with active consultations. I wanted to declare that.
This is the quick-fire supplementary round. I want to follow up on the comments about the tripartite agreement between the UK, France and Ireland, which now does not exist. Do the panellists feel optimistic that something to replace it can be put in place, along similar lines or even wider? Yes, we are in a transitional phase, we want digitisation and we want to lubricate things, but do you feel that we can get a tripartite mark 2?
I do not know who wants to go first. Jan, it looks like you unmuted first, the quickest on the draw.
Jan Rogers: Did I win the unmute race? Yes, I am happy to contribute. The concept of the high health horse status is defined by the OIE. It is an international concept and widely understood. Where the digital systems that Ross and I were talking about exist and you can evidence horses’ health status and trace their movements from their point of origin, from the premises where they originate to the venue that they have attended, you can monitor their in-contacts and return journeys. That concept of a high health horse, to expedite those movements, to support the challenges that are currently being felt, is certainly of interest to the UK and in conversation with sporting bodies across the world likewise. It requires developing and having systems in place to underpin it. It could therefore be a logical replacement for the tripartite agreement, which operated so effectively from ’65, as Ross said, and certainly without any issues since it was renegotiated and began again in 2014.
Q68 Dr Hudson: It is in everyone’s interest, so the UK would be up for it. Do all of you feel that France and Ireland want something similar? Also, within Europe, what about other member states? Can it be a tripartite plus, to add additional members, or do those three original members want it to exist as it does?
Jan Rogers: I will let Ross jump in but, before he does, the concept of just a tripartite need not exist; it could and should be expanded out to be a high health horse arrangement with wider scope.
Ross Hamilton: Absolutely, we are not necessarily looking for a closed shop. The point we would make is that it would be people raising their standards to reach that limit, rather than lowering the standards to let other countries in and so on, so high health is the absolute principle at the heart of this. In respect of the specific nature of the tripartite agreement, it is worth noting that the tripartite agreement predated both the UK’s and Ireland’s accession to the European Community, so there is precedence for it to exist outside the EU structures.
We certainly continue to undertake engagement as part of the taskforce that I referred to earlier. That has Irish and French representation; it has
thoroughbred and sport horse representation on it. Certainly, in the discussions that we have been having in the thoroughbred sector, our counterparts in France and Ireland are absolutely pushing their own Governments and the European Commission, which are ultimately the competent authorities here. Ultimately, it is going to be a European Commission decision, but I think the representations continue to be very strong, certainly from the French and Irish racing industries to their Governments, and we are making the same representations to DEFRA, and so far, encouragingly, we are hearing a positive response to that, but we need to carry on with it over the coming months under the mechanisms now in place, through the trade and co-operation agreement.
Q69 Dr Hudson: That is really helpful, thank you. Roly, I am going to ask about disease in a second, but do you want to add anything to that?
Roly Owers: We would fully support that. Digital traceability clearly underpins that, and it would not work without it. Anything that can be done to streamline compliant equine movements so that the intelligence and focus can be put on non-compliant equine movements is to be broadly welcomed.
Dr Hudson: Chair, will you indulge me a bit, to keep going with a couple of quickfire supplementaries?
Chair: As always, Neil, I can indulge you.
Q70 Dr Hudson: Jan, you talked about the increased costs and paperwork. I think it would be useful for our inquiry to get on the record any instances in this transitional phase of difficulties and complexities for horse owners, potentially at the higher end with breeding animals, with mares with foals at foot. If we could get on the record what your membership and stakeholders are reporting about issues moving mares with foals at foot around for breeding and the complexities, the costs, the logistics and, potentially, some health and welfare implications of that. Is there anything you could get on the record for us?
Jan Rogers: I might have to pass the mares with foals at foot to Ross, since that has principally been a thoroughbred matter to date. I can certainly give you some instances of welfare challenges for sport horses, which have moved principally by ferry from Dover to Calais during the early part of the year where, depending on the day of arrival and the number of other vehicles that arrive at the same time, they have been waiting for up to nine hours. That is an exceptional case, but it is not unusual for horses to wait between the three and seven-hour timeframe to be processed. That would mean to arrive at the port, to get through the veterinary checks, and to get through the customs checks. Those processes are not exactly streamlined yet, but we do have assurances from the chief executive and president that they are being looked at and that these matters are being taken very seriously.
There have been some serious welfare concerns about horses standing on lorries for very long periods and then having to proceed with the journey to their ultimate destination, which, in this case, was for a show-jumping
tour in southern Spain, so as you can imagine, that is a very long journey. For mares with foals at foot, I am afraid I do not have any data for you.
Ross Hamilton: I do not have any data to hand, Neil, but I will endeavour to get some more on that for you.
Dr Hudson: Any reports of any adverse situations on that side of things would help. If there is anything on which you could follow up in writing, that would be very helpful for us.
Roly Owers: Very quickly, there has been one very highly publicised case in Belfast of four ponies being kept for a whole month because of the residency requirement on the paperwork not being appropriately declared. That went to court and eventually the judge overruled the Government and allowed them out. That is just one example of real issues with certification and paperwork not being just at the top end.
Q71 Dr Hudson: Roly, you talked about a common veterinary area there. We want to write a report that can advise the Government on improving things and on the disease implications for the United Kingdom of getting this right. We have had equine herpes virus outbreaks on the continent recently. We wonder about exotic diseases coming into the UK—West Nile virus and things like that. We have the opportunity to get this right, if we get disease surveillance and tracking and traceability. Is there anything you would like to tell the inquiry?
Roly Owers: The principle of a common veterinary area is very much there already, between Switzerland and the EU. It works. We have talked a lot today about the friction in the system. If you have a frictionless system, then the more compliant movements that come into radar, the more focus can be put on the non-compliant movements. The real danger is if we don’t get this right and a significant amount of friction remains in the system. Then, as Jan has already said, people will seek to find ways to move their horses which will not always be compliant. That would significantly increase risk, and it is an unknown risk. There is the example of the common veterinary area already there, and there seems to be a very good will from the sector and the Government that it can actually work. Of course, it depends on the digital traceability and equine ID system.
Dr Hudson: Thank you very much, Roly. And thank you, Chair, for your indulgence. I might take you up on it again later.
Chair: I think you might, on the next question. Ian Byrne, please.
Q72 Ian Byrne: It is nice following Neil Hudson, the expert on all these matters. It has been a real education listening to him. I’m up in Liverpool, and we can talk about Aintree, I’m sure. I am going to direct the first question to Jan. How many horses are being illegally moved across Britain’s borders?
Jan Rogers: Ian, I don’t know how many horses are being illegally moved across Britain’s borders—[Laughter.]
Ian Byrne: That’s the type of answer I like—no nonsense.
Jan Rogers: Yes, absolutely. As I think I mentioned, we have some anecdotal evidence of horses being moved via routes which would not normally have been used before we left the EU. That is information that is received from colleagues, from what people have seen happening at ports, but because they are illegal, there is no data on them, so I can’t quantify it any more. It is a question we were asked by the media, and we were unable to quantify it then, other than to say we are pretty sure it is happening, but I can’t put a figure on it. I don’t know if Roly has any better intel.
Q73 Chair: Jan, we are not going to let you get away with that entirely. You will have to provide something in writing, even if it is only a good guesstimate. I will bring Roly in.
Roly Owers: Ian, thank you for the question. The straight answer is no one knows. It is unquantified because by definition these movements are uncompliant and below the radar. A lot of these horses are going for slaughter—not all, but a significant number. We believe that there is a strong trade in the illicit movement of horses, many of which will end up in European slaughterhouses. It is very difficult to say more.
DEFRA could make some inquiries around this. For example, it was mentioned in the last session that European slaughterhouses should be sending back to UK-based PIOs the passports of horses that go into the food chain. Also, EU member states could be asked how many horses with a GB-registered microchip are slaughtered in their slaughterhouses. There are ways of finding out from the slaughter perspective, but from the non- slaughter perspective, it is very difficult.
We do know, for example, 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.
Q74 Ian Byrne: Thanks, Roly. Ross, have you got any numbers for me?
Ross Hamilton: Not particularly from the thoroughbred sector. All that I would say is that in thoroughbred racing—as thoroughbreds are required to be microchipped and so on—under our Horse Welfare Board strategy, which was launched last February, we are committed to ensuring responsibility across the whole lifetime of a thoroughbred. That is about enhancing traceability and finding out what happens to horses once they leave their thoroughbred racing careers, and where they go next, so that helps in terms of that. Our remit would not be covering illegal movements.
Q75 Ian Byrne: Thanks, Ross. Just to follow up, in April Professor Tim Morris suggested that a solution would be: “Every horse must have a passport; every thoroughbred has one.” Jan, would you agree with that, and what else could the Government do to prevent the illegal movement of horses?
Jan Rogers: Every horse should have a passport and a microchip. We know that isn’t the case; 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.
That leads us through to the challenges of a paper-based system and keeping that up to date. I mentioned earlier that it is virtually impossible to segregate out the inquiry into movement across borders from equine identification, fundamentally because the whole lot rests upon an accurate central identification system that is digital, which allows people to go in and update their information quickly and easily. On top of that, you can add all the extra things that are required, such as zootechnical certification for horses that have pedigrees and certification for horses to move across borders.
But the fundamental, central, digital equine ID record is the thing that will enable easier enforcement. At the moment, authorities have access to the central equine database. The Food Standards Agency has access to the central equine database, and policing and crime enforcement bodies do. The information on there will give those people indications of where the challenges lie, which goes back to the point Roly made about intelligence- led enforcement. But that does rely upon the fundamental record on the system being linked to a microchipped horse. So every horse should have a passport, but in an ideal world that passport would take the form of a digital identification record, which could be held on a smartphone. The whole lot then becomes a lot easier to enforce.
Ian Byrne: Thanks, Jan—good answer. Roly, would you like to add anything?
Roly Owers: The future is certainly digital, not paper, as Jan said. What we do know is that in the current system, since we’ve left the EU, despite all the problems with compliant movement of horses, there is no indication that the volumes of those travelling below the radar have decreased at all.
The problems with the current system are that there is considerable fraud because of the challenges; there is considerable variation in the paperwork due to the different organisations that issue it; there are considerable problems, especially from GB to Northern Ireland and Ireland, in terms of transporters getting under the radar by saying that they are non- commercial when they are really commercial; and there are significant issues around enforcement—lack of joined-up enforcement or inappropriate enforcement. Of course, the bedrock comes back to that digital ID and traceability system. Yes, each horse should have a passport, but even more importantly they should have a digital ID to create a frictionless system that is very easy to maintain.
Ian Byrne: Thanks, Roly, very good answer. Ross, would you like to add anything?
Ross Hamilton: Nothing much, other than that the digitisation of records is very much something we are pursuing in the thoroughbred sector, and we would be fully on board.
Q76 Chair: Before we let Neil Hudson in, I’m going to come in with a quick question to Roly and Jan. How many horses have more than one passport? This has been a real issue in those that are, as you say, Roly, flying beneath the radar. I know there is the microchipping as well, but, as you say, there is still a lot of fraud going on. Have you any idea at all?
Roly Owers: Unquantifiable, I think, Chair. All I can give you are some case examples. There was a very recent case example of an owner who had multiple horses. He sold them to a dealer, but because those passports were replacement passports—therefore, by definition they were signed out of the human food chain—the dealer took the horses and left the passports. We certainly know of transporters who will transport horses—different horses—on the same passports.
So it is as leaky as a sieve, the current system, and until that system is tightened up and is easy to enforce, these things are going to carry on. But I think you can confidently say that there will be a lot of horses—a significant number of horses—that would have more than one passport.
Q77 Chair: So you have really got to get to a stage where you can have an electronic scanner that can pick up the electronic number on the tag, or the chip, in order to be able to check, and I don’t suppose we are anywhere near that yet, are we?
Roly Owers: Well, the central equine database and additional stable— Q78 Chair: We are?
Roly Owers: Absolutely, yes. The whole system of the equine ID has
evolved since the horsemeat scandal in 2013; it was effectively started then. We have made such good progress since then, but we are coming up to the last chance saloon, where we can really create this system that is going to be long-lasting, frictionless and therefore far less subject to abuse.
Q79 Chair: So, basically, the problem is getting it out to those in the horse society who are hardest to reach—I will be very diplomatic this afternoon. So that is where it is basically, is it Roly, putting it bluntly?
Roly Owers: It is about getting it to the whole equine sector, because there is a real problem, in that many people think that the horse ID system is a bit of a joke because it is so poorly enforced. So enforcement is critical—we’ve got to get the system in place. But then it has to be a statutory duty on local authorities to enforce it, because there is no point having a law if you’re not going to enforce it.
There has got to be some carrot. There are some real benefits to equine owners from having an effective equine ID and traceability system, but there’s got to be a bit of stick for those who don’t take it up. Fixed penalty notices are now possible, so local authorities don’t have to take people
through the courts. It is a matter of joining up all of those pieces, but it will come down to enforcement with those who perhaps choose not to comply.
Chair: Okay. Thank you. That is some good evidence for us. Right, Neil— over to you. Sorry I nipped in before you, but that’s the Chairman’s prerogative.
Q80 Dr Hudson: That’s all right. Thank you, Chair. A quick-fire round again. Coming back to Roly, I just wanted to explore very quickly the welfare issues. This is a movement across borders of animals. The movement of horses, as you said in one of your previous answers, Roly, is not without stress for the people and very much for the animals concerned. But it can be done and is done very well in the high end, often with vets and grooms travelling with the horses, and also owners moving their horses around, with frequent stops, and they do it very well.
We have been exploring the more illegal movement of animals, under the radar, and it would be useful for the inquiry to hear from you, Roly, about any issues that your organisation has seen with that form of transportation. You mentioned certain movements of animals where you get many, many horses on a truck. If we could get on the record this illicit movement of animals, potentially for slaughter, under the guise of competition or something like that, and the welfare implications of this lower end of the movement of animals, we could really highlight that as a Committee and then make recommendations on it.
Roly Owers: Obviously, it comes back to that whole issue of being able to define how many of these horses there are. Until we know that, it will be difficult to get the scale of the problem, but as I have said, we believe it is a significant trade. Because these animals are being moved, potentially on extremely long journeys, and their welfare is not a priority, we have seen first hand that there are significant implications. There is no getting away from the scale of the problem, and we need to be able to put in a system, especially around digital ID, to be able to enforce things.
There are a number of dealers, as I have said, who are making regular trips between Ireland and Great Britain and mainland Europe—
Q81 Dr Hudson: If I could interrupt you, could you articulate some of the implications for the horse from, potentially, a lack of water and being transported in unsuitable vehicles? Are there any incidents of injuries that you could highlight to the Committee?
Roly Owers: There are multiple welfare issues, absolutely. You start with the vehicle. 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. That is simply not happening.
Of course, we know that a significant number of these animals are diseased. Therefore, their own individual welfare is extremely compromised, but they also pose a significant risk to the countries in which they are travelling. Because it is all happening under the radar, we know that individual animals will make the journey in a circuitous fashion. Animals that start in Ireland will end up in Ireland but they will have been to Great Britain and mainland Europe in between because they are being passed from pillar to post in a very murky underworld. So, yes, there are massive challenges on both a health and a welfare basis that need driving down. That is what the intelligence-led enforcement needs to focus on.
Q82 Dr Hudson: Thank you, Roly. It is really important for us to get the implications on record. If we get this right with traceability, digitisation and so on, can we close these loopholes and ultimately stop this traffic that is affecting the welfare of individuals and groups of animals? If we get this right, can we improve equine welfare?
Roly Owers: Absolutely, without a doubt. But obviously we need the system in place, and then you need the joined-up system around enforcement.
Sorry, I might have said earlier that it is not always low-value transporters taking low-value horses. Sometimes they are not. Sometimes they are taking horses of greater value than that but, as Jan said, they are circumventing the system and finding ways to do that.
Absolutely, we would be extremely confident that, if you had that digital ID and traceability system, and infrastructure at border control posts that allows those high-health movements to be completely frictionless, and then you focus down on the non-compliant movements, you would have a system that would work. It would protect the sector and equine health and welfare at the same time.
Q83 Dr Hudson: Thank you; that is really helpful. One more quickie—please indulge me again, Neil—for Roly or Jan on a very emotive topic. We have touched on horses being transported for slaughter, and the concept that horses might be slaughtered and ultimately go into the food chain is very emotive for some people. Can you put into perspective how the capability of the abattoir system in the UK to cope with equine slaughter is very limited? Could you put on record why it is that animals are being shipped to Europe? Why can’t they be addressed in this country?
Roly Owers: I can start on that, and then I am sure Jan will come in. We have four slaughterhouses in the UK that are registered to take horses, but only one takes them in any significant number. We would have concerns if there was no slaughter capability, because that would be an even greater case for driving this underground movement of horses. So there is the capacity. We know that, at the moment, the UK slaughterhouse is implementing the regulations as they should be done, but while its number of horses in 2012-13 was about 12,000 a year, it is now below 3,000, so there has been a significant reduction. If that goes down much further, obviously there will not be a case for keeping it. So
that is a concern. If we do not have that slaughterhouse, there will be an even greater concern about the movement being driven underground.
Dr Hudson: Thank you very much. Thank you, Chair, for your indulgence on that.
Chair: Thank you, Neil. Good questions and good answers. Derek with question 5, please.
Q84 Derek Thomas: Thank you, Chair. It may be that we have covered most of this, but I will ask the question because you may have things to add. The Government have announced that they will consider changes to equine identification traceability to improve biosecurity and animal welfare. What further things would you like to see as part of the consultation on this Government consideration?
Jan Rogers: We are very grateful for the opportunity to contribute to this comprehensive review of equine identification. As you say, the current statutory instrument covers quite a narrow area of equine ID— microchipping and the penalties for non-compliance. We have already discussed the challenges of the current regime and the fact that it is not really taken seriously, dare I say, by the British horse-owning public because it lacks teeth. There is very little enforcement, which is understandable because local authority enforcers are embedded in enforcing other areas. Horses are difficult: they are big, they are complex, they are frightening. It is a challenge, where resources are limited, to invite people to get involved in the horse world, which they are not familiar with.
A comprehensive overhaul of the equine ID system, where a digital record is fundamentally central, will enable that enforcement to be carried out largely remotely. That is probably one of the biggest and most important things. If enforcement is to happen, which it needs to for horse owners to have confidence in the ID system and to feel like they should comply with it and that there is a benefit to complying with it, it needs to be easier to bring about. If these