Documentary Highlights Need for Centralised Equine ID and Traceability System 

14 June 2024

A recent exposé documentary by Irish broadcaster RTÉ has shone a spotlight on the equine welfare and human health implications of a fragmented ID and traceability system across Europe.

The documentary was built on knowledge gained from more than 15 years of research conducted by equine charity World Horse Welfare. Whilst the documentary focused on equines exported for slaughter, and the food chain implications, and the traceability of equines sent for slaughter, it did also highlight important shortfalls on Equine ID and Traceability across the UK and Europe with implications across the equestrian industry in general.

World Horse Welfare have long campaigned for improved equine ID as it is known there are significant negative welfare implications for horses that are not traceable, but given the scale of the problem evidenced in the programme, it gives compelling evidence that the governments take action now.

World Horse Welfare, along with other equestrian and welfare charities, are pressing for better traceability processes and record-keeping across the UK, EEA and EU and better sharing of this information between agencies, and intelligence-led enforcement. This includes:

  • Markets, fairs and auctions to keep records that are publicly available,
  • Auctions to display the microchip number of every horse entering the sale in their catalogue and notify the country of registration for the individual horse if originating from another country,
  • All central equine databases to have a public site with the horse’s information, which must include food chain status,
  • Better join up and collaboration between EU, EEA and the UK when it comes to sharing intelligence and information
  • Educating horse owners about responsible buying and selling to raise awareness of why they shouldn’t buy unseen and/or rely on a vet check organised by the seller,
  • The importance of doing diligence being undertaken by buyers on those selling equines,

In the longer term, it is imperative that there are fully digitalised equine identification systems across Europe including Great Britain, and the information must be accessible to all stakeholders including enforcement agencies, so they can enforce the law. These systems must also cover all equines, not just sport horses, and all key movements need to be recorded and linked to the individual equine.

Given the amount of fraud around microchips, there must be other forms of identification. Given the difficulty in reading silhouettes, World Horse Welfare are suggesting that photographs are also used, and the description of the equine is quick and easy to update and independently verified by a vet. DNA has been cited by some as an additional solution.

Once developed, the centralised digital ID system must also allow for a digital buyer/seller handshake. This will give greater certainty that the equine can be traced back to the last legitimate point of sale, and details of who the horse was sold to. Alongside improved traceability, a digital system would also help build a better picture of the compliant and non-compliant trade and allow for intelligence and data led enforcement.

Following updates to the Equine Identification Laws in 2018, many horses still remain without passports and microchips, and the information and guidance was not widely available so many horse owners and yard owners are still uncertain of the rules when it comes to checking and holding passports, and many yard owners not even checking equines are passported before accepting them on their premises.

An overhaul and centralised database to support Equine ID and Traceability, aside from assisting with the prevention of the issues raised in the documentary, would have a hugely positive impact on the equestrian industry in general giving better traceability of equines, their owners, where they are kept, to support biosecurity practices, and being able to follow specific equines when it comes to welfare issues or concerns.

Both RTÉ programmes can be watched on RTÉ Player but come with a strong VIEWER ADVISORY WARNING due to some of the content they contain  – including horses being abused inside an Irish slaughterhouse lairage.  

RTÉ Investigate exposé ‘Horses – Making a Killing  

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