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12-10-2009 - Horses - a species apart?

Horses - a species apart?

Where does the horse (and donkey) fit into responsibility and cost sharing? Chris House, president of the British Equine Veterinary Association, attempted to answer this question in another congress session. However, he suggested, 'the proposals that exist are very confused and lacking in detail'.

A problem throughout had been that they did not allow for differences between the equine and production livestock sectors, and 'appear to be based on inaccurate figures and a fundamental lack of understanding of the way the horse sector works'.

However, on a more positive note, Mr House said that cost and responsibility sharing was already happening within the equine sector, with cooperation between a number of organisations and Defra. Examples included the African Horse Sickness Working Group, equine disease surveillance and the Equine Health and Welfare Strategy.

Would this be improved by introducing a new independent body for animal health? 'I would seriously question that,' he said.

Proposed levy

It had been proposed that the horse sector should contribute 20 per cent overall to the responsibility and cost sharing scheme. A levy, to be paid by horse owners, of £10.50 per horse, had been suggested.

However, Mr House was concerned that if the Government decided to keep the contribution of the horse sector at 20 per cent, and if additional collection/registration costs were included, the levy could end up being much higher. The industry had calculated that it could be up to £125 per horse.

He discussed the impact that a levy might have on the equine sector. The racing industry, which currently generated a £300 million tax revenue for the Government, could afford £10.50, he said. But was it a good idea? Racehorses could easily be trained in other countries, which 'might have a destabilising influence on the industry'.

There were more than four million horse riders in the UK and at least two million of those rode at least monthly. The average riding school had 25 horses. How might a levy affect riding schools, their clients and also individual horse owners? Horse riding had to compete with other pursuits and people might opt for a less expensive hobby.

Also, the charity sector owned approximately 11,000 animals; the largest was the Donkey Sanctuary, with more than 3000 animals. How would charities afford such high contributions?

BEVA believed that a per capita levy on horses and donkeys was 'unfair and undesirable', he said. Also, 'Replacing Defra with another body is unlikely to enhance the existing robust, constructive relationship between Defra, BEVA and the horse industry.'

'The horse industry largely funds its own health and welfare structure, and in an appropriate and responsible way, and it is difficult to see how this can be improved.'

He believed that other methods of funding should be investigated as an alternative to a levy in the livestock sector. One 'quite controversial' solution that had been considered was to pass the levy to the consumer, adding it at the point of consumption.

Defra's view

Speaking on behalf of Defra, Gavin Ross said it was accepted that the levy of £10.50 suggested in the consultation document was 'a fairly arbitrary figure'. The levies for livestock had been based on the gross output for these sectors, but no equivalent figures were available for the horse sector.

'We acknowledged that a lot more work will need to be done to determine exactly what was the appropriate figure for the horse sector, should that be pursued.'

It was recognised that many costs were already met by the horse sector; 'However, the intention behind responsibility and cost sharing is very much looking to establish a direct link between payments relating to dealing with exotic disease outbreaks' and preparedness, he said.

Commenting on the £1 compensation figure that had been paid for horses slaughtered due to infectious disease in the past, Mr Ross explained that this had been specific to equine infectious anaemia (EIA). 'That doesn't mean that any compensation arrangements for any other exotic diseases affecting horses are going to be £1.' As with EIA, they would be based on the pathway by which the disease was likely to occur.

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