EQUINE welfare charities could suffer badly if plans to levy funds from owners to pay for the cost of controlling exotic disease outbreaks go ahead, warned BEVA president Chris House.
BVA congress delegates were told that there was uncertainty over the position of horses within the Government’s Animal Health and Welfare Strategy and its responsibility and cost sharing proposals.
DEFRA plans to split the cost of disease surveillance and preparation with the livestock industry, currently about £40 million a year. Horse owners may have to contribute about 20% of the total but there are no details available yet on who exactly will be expected to pay–and how much.
Mr House said a sum of £10.50 per head had been mentioned by DEFRA but he believed that the eventual figure could be considerably higher. Although most horse owners could readily afford the basic sum, even that could have a major impact on the charity sector.
The Donkey Sanctuary is the single largest owner of equine animals in the UK with more than 3,300 animals and there is an estimated total of 11,000 horses and donkeys in the care of welfare institutions.
Unfair and undesirable
He said that a levy based on the numbers of horses and donkeys kept by each individual owner would be “unfair and undesirable”.
He warned, however, that there could be unforeseen consequences if the main responsibility was passed onto the owners of commercial operations.
He said that the thoroughbred racing industry was a major source of employment and tax revenue but owners could readily move their stables to neighbouring countries if they were disadvantaged in being based in the UK. Meanwhile, many pleasure riding stables were run on a shoestring and could not bear significant additional costs.
Horse owners were not opposed to the principle of cost sharing and were already working with DEFRA and private institutions, notably the Animal Health Trust, in various equine disease surveillance and control initiatives.
He said it was difficult to see how the Government’s proposals for a new disease control agency could be an improvement on the existing arrangements and urged ministers to rethink their plans.
Gavin Ross, the DEFRA official in charge of the responsibility and cost sharing programme, gave assurances that there would be plenty of opportunity for the equine industry to make its views known.
Legislation will not be tabled before the next election and new rules would not be in place before April 2012. But he insisted that it was reasonable for livestock keepers rather than the taxpayer to meet the costs of controlling disease. Similar structures were in place in many other countries and the European Union had plans for a pan-European system.