Proposals to change the ID process for horses, donkeys and mules

CLA North Rural Adviser Libby Bateman blogs on Defra's proposals to change the process of identification for equines.
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Defra is consulting on proposals to change the process of identification for equines, which includes horses, ponies, donkeys and mules. The current system is a little bit wonky and open to unscrupulous behaviour as animals have to be accompanied by a paper passport, recording ownership details and some veterinary intervention, such as vaccinations.

Defra would like to move this to a digital system with a heavier emphasis on collating the microchip of the animal to its identification and health status; much the same as is possible with sheep and cattle through the electronic ID system.

The underlying spirit of these proposals is laudable but, as always, implementation and delivery could throw-up some unforeseen challenges. The CLA has carefully considered these challenges and submitted a response to the government consultation on behalf of its members. Of specific and underlying concern is that the proposals in England are not in alignment with those in Wales, with the latter preferring to maintain the present paper-based system.

Of interest to the CLA is the need to be better able to identify animals which have been abandoned, perhaps through the practice of fly-grazing. The current law enables victims of fly-grazing to immediately seize the animal and, after a period of four days, take ownership of it. From there the landowner is able to dispose of the animal in which ever way they see fit. However, the landowner is faced with the cost of passporting the animal before it can be moved on. Defra is consulting on the provision of a temporary identification system for use in these circumstances, which is welcomed by the CLA.

Other proposals include a requirement for show and event organisers to digitally record the equines attending their events. This is something CLA has pushed-back against due to the heavy burden it would place on event organisers, who are often working as volunteers. This proposal could also disrupt the business practice of auction marts and other equestrian sale events.

Defra also wanted to know if it would be appropriate for former owners to be identified on digital identification records. CLA disagreed with this proposal unless a former owner specifically requested details to be retained on the record.

On the issue of transfer of ownership, currently it is only the purchaser who is responsible for registering their new ownership with the Passport Issuing Organisation (PIO), which can create a problem with future identification if it does not happen correctly. There is often a charge to transfer the ownership with the PIO, and this does not always translate to a change of owner at the microchip registration company. DEFRA propose that both the vendor and the purchaser are involved in the ownership transfer, which will reduce the risk of animals changing hands unknowingly by their rightful owners.

Of final note is the question of registration of youngstock and the ability to maintain provenance through the studbook. CLA has been clear that the registration of bloodlines must be preserved and that there is a clear difference between breed association studbooks and identification processes.