IN order to prevent unsuitable horses from entering the food chain, and to improve the identification of equidae, the summer of 2009 has seen the introduction of significant new regulations for horse passports.
The regulations, which came into effect on 1st July and apply to all EU member states, include, but are not limited to, mandatory microchipping, passport availability at all times, checking passports before medical treatment, and recording all vaccinations.
For now, these are the regulations that have been applied in England, but it is expected that Northern Ireland will introduce the same requirements in response to the European Directive.
When applying for an equine passport, microchipping is now mandatory. The horse’s owner (or appointed agent, only) must first obtain an application form from a Passport Issuing Organisation, and satisfy any conditions set by that PIO.
The electronic microchip must only be implanted by a qualified, registered veterinary surgeon. He or she must scan the horse for existing implanted microchips, and also check for scars suggesting previous implantation or removal, prior to inserting the new microchip. It is now an offence if the veterinary surgeon fails to do this.
If an existing microchip is found, the new chip must not be inserted. The owner will inform the PIO, and the National Equine Database, which will investigate for a previously issued passport. If a passport is traced, the original issuing PIO will issue a duplicate. If not, a “replacement” may be issued.
In both cases, Part II of Section IX must be signed by PIO to indicate that the horse is not eligible for human consumption. If it seems likely that an undocumented, surgical removal of an earlier microchip has taken place, the vet can insertanew microchip, but, again, the PIO will sign Part II of Section IX.
After implanting the microchip, the vet completes Section I Part A(5) of the passport, recording the unique 15 digit number. He or she also indicates the position of the microchip on the silhouette with a capital M with a circle round it, and signs and stamps Section I Part A(11).
In some cases, the microchip’s unique identification characteristics may replace the need to complete the silhouette diagram on the passport, but this will depend on the rules of each individual Passport Issuing Organisation and certain breed societies. Other methods of identification, such as freeze branding or DNA verification, do not replace the requirement for a microchip.
From 1st July, foals must now have an electronic microchip implanted when first being identified, within six months of birth, or by 31st December in the year of their birth, whichever is later. If passports are not applied for within these parameters, and for all other older horses, the PIO must sign Part II of Section IX to indicate that these animals are not eligible for human consumption, since their medication history is unknown.
If a foal is being sold within six months of birth, or by 31st December in the year of its birth, a passport is not required for the purposes of sale. The new owner will have up to 30 days in which to register the foal. However, a foal will need a passport if it is being exported without its dam or foster mother, or sent for slaughter for human consumption.
An older horse may not be sold either privately, or at markets or auctions, or indeed moved to the premises of a sale, without a passport. After a sale, the vendor must give the passport to the purchaser, who then has 30 days to notify the original PIO of the change of ownership. (The PIO may need to issue temporary documents that last up to 45 days.)
If an auctioneer is used, he or she must be given the passport with the horse, as he or she becomes the keeper of the animal. However, the passport itself is not an ownership document.
Together at all times
A horse must now be accompanied by the passport at all times. From 1st August 2009, it is an offence to move a horse without it. There are exceptions to this rule: for example, when the horse is at pasture, is stabled, in emergency situations, leaving a competition or event area for training or test purposes, or being moved on foot only if the passport can be made available within three hours. The passport must also be available at the time of treatment if the horse is being given a veterinary medication.
People who keep horses for others (e.g. full livery yards, horses on loan, breeders, transporters, racehorse trainers, etc.) must make arrangements with every owner to ensure that each passport is available immediately, whenever necessary, as it is an offence for a keeper of horses to have responsibility for an animal which does not have a passport.
Horses may only move within the EU if accompanied by their passports. When a horse comes into the country from outside the EU, the owner must apply for a passport within 30 days. If the duration of the horse’s stay is less than 30 days, however, then it is not necessary to apply for a passport unless the final destination of the horse is another EU member state.
If the imported horse already has a microchip, its unique code number may be used on the passport if the horse has not been previously identified in the UK. In some cases, existing papers can be updated, according to the rules of the PIO, but Part II of Section IX must be signed, whether a new passport is issued, or an existing one updated, so the horse cannot be used for human consumption.
Passports must be returned to the original PIO for amendment if the owner’s circumstances change, and temporary documents may be issued if the PIO cannot return it within five days. However, if the horse receives veterinary attention whilst the passport is being updated, the vet will write details of the medications administered or prescribed, and the period of treatment, and the owner must then ensure that the passport is updated.
Any lost, stolen or damaged passports will result in a duplicate being issued, but the PIO will sign Part II of Section IX, taking the horse out of the food chain. When the horse dies, the passport must be returned to PIO within 30 days.
See the passport first
When a vet is presented with a horse, he or she must carefully check the passport first to ensure that it belongs to that particular horse, and to find out the status of the animal as to whether it is eligible for human consumption, and consequently which particular medicines are permitted.
The new regulations require that each vet checks the passport before administration, supply or prescription of veterinary medicines. It is an offence not to ask to see the passport before treating the horse. Owners must sign the declaration at Part II of Section IX if substances not permitted for entry into the food chain have been administered, supplied or prescribed. If the owner refuses to sign, the vet must do so. This signature and declaration can never be reversed.
In an emergency situation in which the vet does not have access to the passport, he or she must only administer substances suitable for food producing animals. It is an offence to treat a horse with a substance unsuitable for use in a food producing animal if the Section IX status is unknown.
It is an offence to fail to record information required under the Veterinary Medicines Regulations 2008, when products are administered to an animal intended for human consumption. The responsibility for this may fall on the keeper to update the passport if the vet has given him or her written details of the treatment.
Record all vaccines
The new regulations now require vets to record all vaccines given. This will help to ensure that accurate records are available for all horses within the EU. Regardless of whether the horse is for human consumption or not, the vet will commit an offence if he or she does not record all vaccines administered, supplied or prescribed in Section V and VI of the passport.
The coverage of the regulations has been extended and it now applies to any wild or domesticated soliped mammal, of all species within the genus Equus of the family Equidae, and their crosses. Therefore, it now includes zebras and other non-domesticated equidae kept in zoos and safari parks.
The only exceptions are defined populations of identified, listed wild and semi-wild horses in designated areas of Dartmoor, Exmoor and the New Forest in England.
Some other EU countries may authorise the use of “smart cards” instead of paper passports, and the new regulations now allow the movement of horses within national boundaries to use these.
This briefly summarises the new guidelines for the Horse Passport Regulations 2009. Further details may be obtained from www.defra.gov.uk.
DEFRA. Guide to the Horse Passports Regulations 2009, www.defra.gov.uk, August 2009. www.defra.gov.uk/animalh/idmove/horses/pdf/guidance2009.pdf.
■ This article first appeared in Northern Ireland Veterinary Today. Author photo courtesy of fletcherphotography.co.uk.