‘Equine passport error unfairly stamps horses out of food chain’ – HCI claim

Concerns over the issuing of equine passports have emerged following claims that a large number of horses have been “mistakenly” stamped out of the food chain.

Horse Care Ireland (HCI) – a lobby group made up of horse producers, keepers and other stakeholders – claims that  “ongoing inconsistencies” have surfaced regarding passport information of individual horses recorded on the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine’s (DAFM) national database and information recorded by some of the state’s approved Passport Issuing Organisations (PIOs).

John Joe Fitzpatrick, chairman of HCI, claims that such “discrepancies” have resulted in suitable horses being “unfairly excluded” from the food chain – leading to horse abandonment.

He highlights that the scenario is also resulting in huge bills footed by the taxpayer, as stray horses are seized by state authorities.

HCI is calling on the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine, Michael Creed, to introduce of a horse traceability and identification system – similar to the system that currently operates in the beef sector.

Food chain protection

In January 2016, new stricter EU rules were implemented regarding the identification of equines to further protect the food chain.

Under the new measures, each member state established a central equine database to be populated and updated on an ongoing basis with specific equine identification data notified by approved PIOs – there are seven approved PIOs in Ireland.

All equines – horses, ponies and donkeys – born in, or imported into, the EU are required to be identified in accordance with equine identification legislation.

The equine keeper is responsible for ensuring that all equines have the relevant identification documents issued within 12 months from the date of birth of the animal. The consequences for late identification include the automatic exclusion of the animal from the food chain.

All equine animals presented for slaughter for human consumption must also be implanted with a microchip.

Horses or ponies that have ever received certain banned medication or tranquilizers are rendered unsuitable for the human food chain.

Although this robust system is in place, HCI – the Galway-based voluntary organisation set up to represent the lower end of the horse industry – claims that Horse Sport Ireland, an approved POI, is “not accurately updating” passport details onto the national database.

“The information on the department’s national database is not consistent with the information we get from the passport issuing body. It seems they are not updating all their information onto the national database, which they are compelled to do by law.

“We are left with a horse that would have been valued at around €850 – which could have generated an income. Instead, the horse has no value or use,” said Fitzpatrick – who also operates horse abattoir, Shannonside Foods in Straffan, Co. Kildare, which exports 15t of horse meat a week to Europe for human consumption.

Higher testing regime

“We buy horses that have no other purpose. They are an end of life animal or casualty or have an inability.

We only accept animals that are fit for the food chain; but, our biggest problem is when we try to get clearance for the food chain the information that’s up on the database is not consistent with the information on the passport.

“When we realise they don’t correspond then we have a problem. It is very hard for us to run a business when the information isn’t consistent,” he said.

“It’s a wreckless operation on behalf of the passport issuing bodies. We are calling on the minister for a higher testing regime so that horses could be tested before slaughter to ensure a higher rate of food safety.

“I would like to see a system similar to the beef traceability and identification system. When a young calf is born, he can be identified in a matter of hours at the cost of a few euros; but, the cost of registration for a foal can be up to €80 with the horse board.

We’ve probably come across 30-40 horses that have been wrongly stamped out in the past year; but, I understand thousands have been unfairly excluded in the last number of years.

“The biggest cost to the taxpayer is animals that are excluded; because, some of those animals have no other use or value. They are being left on waste ground with the taxpayer picking up the bill,” he said.

Horse Sport Ireland

In response to the issue, Alison Corbally, director of breeding and programmes at Horse Sport Ireland – the national governing body for equestrian sport in Ireland with responsibility for maintaining the Irish draught and Irish sport horse studbook, issuing passports and marketing the Irish equine industry – said the body operates under licence from the Department of Agriculture.

Since the introduction of the DAFM central database, Corbally says Horse Sport Ireland has complied with all requirements of the legislation.

“The EU legislation regarding the status of animals eligible for the food chain is clear – but, has changed in line with increased controls to ensure food safety.

“All animals not registered in line with the legislative deadlines are required to be excluded from the food chain. It is the owner/keeper’s responsibility to ensure that they have their animals registered within the relevant timelines,” she said.

Corbally highlighted that the legislation also requires that any prohibitive substances used in the treatment of animals are correctly recorded in the passport by the attending veterinary surgeon and that the owner/keeper must ensure that the passport is available in order for the medication to be accurately recorded.

“The increased controls in passport regulations and the fact that horses are not all registered by their owner/keeper within the time frames, results in fewer horses being eligible for admission to factories or slaughter houses for human consumption.

The primary concern in these controls is the possibility of compromised animals entering the food chain. Horse Sport Ireland has developed systems in consultation with Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine to ensure as far as possible that no animals can enter the food chain erroneously.

“The slaughterhouse / Food Business Operator (FBO) have a number of steps which they must undertake to ensure compliance with the requirements of the legislation. The FBO must undertake a documentary check on the DAFM central database, of the records of all equines that are intended for slaughter as a pre-clearance step.

“Only those equines in respect of which a positive outcome has been received from the DAFM central database can be cleared to be presented for slaughter.

“At intake, the FBO must also ensure that – in respect of each equine presented – the equine has a valid passport and is properly identified and eligible for the food chain.”

Nightly updates

Corbally said the HSI currently supplies DAFM on a nightly basis with an update on the status of animals to ensure, as far as possible, that the DAFM central database record is “accurate and corresponds” with the studbook database and the identity record or passport.

It should be noted however, that the data is only accurate at the point in time when it was uploaded to the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine database.

The Central Equine Database (CED) was initiated in mid-2013 and the system to upload information to the CED was automated in 2015.