Opinion

Letter to the editor: Levies for horse breeders are ‘unjust and unfair’

I would like to highlight to your readers the unfair levy that is charged to breeders of thoroughbred foals. These breeders are mostly farmers. I received my forms for registering my foals the other day. With it was a booklet from Horse Racing Ireland (HRI) that tried to justify this levy. 

In the questions and answers section it put forward its own questions – questions that I believe are not appropriate. These are not questions that breeders would ask.

They are simply questions that HRI can easily answer. For example, it asks: ‘What happens when breeders refuse to pay the levy?’. It also says that those who don’t pay won’t receive the benefits. But what are the benefits? I don’t know of any; to me it has the potential to mislead.

‘Unjust and unfair’

I have not paid this levy for 10 years. The reason is because – I believe – it’s unjust and unfair. I would have no problem paying if it was just and fair.

The levy is based on the advertised fee for a stallion. However, the ‘regulations’ say that it should be based on the general applicable fee – the average trading fee for a stallion. Stallions are typically advertised at a maximum price, to give the stallion master room to negotiate.

‘Misconceptions’

Weatherbys Ireland is the organisation that registers thoroughbred foals. Weatherbys collects this levy at the point of registration, which it then receives a fee for. Breeders are under the misconception that they must pay this levy when registering a foal.

Once you ‘blood’ and ‘chip’ your foal and submit your registration forms along with a fee, Weatherbys must issue you with a passport that, in turn, must accompany every horse where it resides. Then it is up to HRI to collect the levy. 

The foal levy is distributed between a number of organisations, including: the Irish Equine Centre; Irish Thoroughbred Breeders’ Association (ITBA); and Irish Thoroughbred Marketing (ITM).

The Irish Equine Centre, who is a not-for-profit organisation, does some great work but it doesn’t just work for breeders. Yet, it seems, only the breeders contribute through the levy.

Irish Thoroughbred Marketing (ITM) was set up to help market our horses abroad. It mostly benefits the top end of the market; it helps to organise flights and accommodation for people who come from abroad. There’s not a lot of benefit for the national hunt sector, as we only trade with the UK.

We have suggested several times that the fairest way is to collect a 1% levy at the point of sale, because everyone in the industry here in Ireland sells a horse at some stage. All other levies in the agricultural sector, from what I can see, are collected at the point of sale. Why is the equine sector treated differently?

The foal levy committee, which distributes this money, is made up of seven members – from a handful of bodies. It should really be an independent committee – representing all sectors of the industry. 

I’m appealing to all breeders to withhold all levies – until such time as the levy is collected and distributed fairly. I stress – again – that you don’t actually have to pay the levy when you’re registering your foal.

From Gerry Callanan, Nanallac Stud, Co. Kildare