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Muckspreader Private Eye 2 June 04

The latest farce brought to us courtesy of Defra stars Alun Michael, in his role as "minister for the horse and the quality of urban life". This is his decision that, by the end of this month, to comply with EU rules, all owners of horses and donkeys (or, as the EU insists on calling them, "equines and asinines"), must have applied for an individual "passport" for each of their animals. Brussels has been trying to get this system in place for years but in Britain, with more than a million horses and donkeys to be registered, it proved so complex to administer that it has several times had to be postponed. At last, however, thanks to the tireless officials of the "rabies and equines" division of Defra's "zootechnics section". Mr Michael's spectacular is ready to roll.
By next March (2005) not to have a passport for each equine and asinine will be a criminal offence, punishable by a fine of up to £5000.

The principle of the scheme, introduced to comply with EU directive 93/623 and commission decision 2000/68, is that each horse shall be given its own "equine life number" (donkeys likewise), accompanied by a £20 passport showing the names of its parents and grandparents and which veterinary drugs it has been given. Thoroughbred horses must in addition have a "silhouette" signed by a vet, at a cost of a further £80, showing its distinguishing marks. Defra itself admits that the initial cost of all this to owners may be as high as £18 million, with running costs of £1-2 million a year thereafter.

But the first oddity of the scheme is why it was ever thought necessary. The original purpose was to ensure that people who eat horsemeat are protected from the ill-effects of any drugs administered to the horses (and presumably donkeys) they eat. Since eating horseflesh is not particularly fashionable in Britain, and since in 1937 an act of parliament was introduced to forbid the exporting of horses to be eaten on the continent, it is hard to see quite how these new laws have any relevance to the UK. But when the EU issues a new directive, it naturally insists that it must apply to everyone. So the first consequence of the new passport scheme is that, in the name of the single market, it will now become legal to export thousands of British horses each year to furnish French and Italian dinner tables.

A second oddity arises in the way other countries intend to apply the law which Mr Michael is keen to enforce in Britain with such rigour. In France and Germany only horses registered to take part in competitions need passports (although German officials have already detected the first horse passport forgery). Much the same applies in Holland and Greece. In Ireland no scheme is yet in place. No other countries have yet introduced fines for not having a passport. Yet so irrelevant to the UK is any need for this scheme that our "minister for the horse" now justifies it by bleating about how useful it will be to have a "national equine database", though he cannot explain why.
In general, it seems no one has much reason to thank Mr Michael other than those thousands of horses which for the first time will be able to enjoy the privilege of being exported from Britain to be consumed by appreciative continental gourmets.