Are vets contributing to welfare problem? - Veterinary Practice
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InFocus

Are vets contributing to welfare problem?

Veterinary Practice reports on some of the sessions at last month’s National Equine Forum

EQUINE practitioners may be
contributing to the current welfare
problems of the UK horse
population whenever they
administer treatment that will
permanently exclude an animal
from the human food chain,
according to a speaker
at the National Equine
Forum in London last
month.

There is a growing
welfare crisis in Britain at
present due to a surplus of low value
horses and the shrinking demand
caused by adverse economic
conditions, he said.

Part of the solution must be to
relax rules on the administration of
veterinary medicines as they are
preventing those horses being
slaughtered for their meat.

Stephen Potter is a partner in L. J.
Potter & Partners, one of only two
remaining licensed equine abattoirs in
the UK. The company operates from
premises in Bristol and Taunton and
the carcases are exported to a meat-
cutting plant in northern France where
there is a ready demand for the
product.

He argued that slaughter for
human consumption was essential to
protect the welfare of the wider horse
population. “The role of the horse
meat industry is to fill the gap when
the seller of an otherwise fit horse
cannot find a willing buyer. Without the industry, the value of an unwanted
horse falls, bringing others down with
it and leading to a downward spiral of
neglect.”

Mr Potter warned that the numbers
of surplus horses being neglected or
abandoned was a result of two factors:
the unwillingness of horse owners to
face public opprobrium if they send
horses for slaughter and the
unsatisfactory rules on the
administration of veterinary medicines.

When the Horse Passport
Regulations 2004 were introduced, he
said he was able to predict the impact
of Section IX which requires that
horses be permanently excluded from
the food chain if they are treated with a medicine for which no
maximum residue limit has
been agreed.

“I knew that the total
loss of value due to that
exclusion would perpetuate
a moral hazard which
could potentially lead to
fraud. Also, the complexity
of the licensing system
would lead to the default
exclusion of all horses by
vets to protect their
professional reputation. I am of the
same view today.”

Scientifically ignorant

He said it was “scientifically ignorant”
to insist that the meat from horses
treated using a medicine without an
agreed MRL should be considered
unsafe, as any agent will be completely
eliminated from the body at some
point.

Horses entering the EU from
countries such as Canada are
considered safe to eat when the last
recorded treatment was more than six
months ago. There should be similar
rules to allow the consumption of
home-bred animals which have received treatment at
some stage in the past,
through the issue of an
amended passport.

Roly Owers, chief
executive of World Horse
Welfare, insisted that the
use of the term “welfare
crisis” was no
exaggeration and the
situation was getting
worse. All the equine
welfare charities reported the same problem: that their rescue
shelters were full and they were having
to start culling health horses for which
they were unable to find a suitable
home.

There are an estimated 7,000-plus
horses that are neglected or abandoned
around the country, he said.

Initiatives such as castration clinics
for horses owned by the traveller
community may have some value but
dealing with the problem of surplus
horses was a challenge for the whole
equine world.

The main cause of the oversupply
problem was the numbers of horse
owners breeding just one or two foals
rather than large-scale horse breeding operations, he explained.
Nicolas de Brauwere, head of welfare and behaviour at the Redwings
Horse Sanctuary, agreed with Mr
Owers that introducing draconian new
regulations to curb excessive breeding
would not be a practical solution to
the current problems. But what was
needed was proper enforcement of the
existing regulations, he said.

It is essential to be able to establish
a clear link between neglected horses
and their owners. So what is required
is the introduction of an identification
system involving compulsory
microchipping of foals and the entry
of ownership details for the animal on
a national database, he said.

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