"We're all right Jack" - but are we, BHS and BEVA?

Horse owners may be a little concerned to see how far their organisations are prepared to back this new government bill. We rather wonder what DEFRA said that resulted in this statement issued today.

Bill To Amend The Animal Health Act 1981

Joint statement from the British Horse Society and British Equine Veterinary Association

After consultations with DEFRA, the BHS and BEVA are agreed that the provisions of this Bill should not alarm horse (pony, donkey, ass and mule) owners.

Taken out of context and read in isolation, the Bill to amend the Animal Act 1981, may well give rise to misunderstandings and interpretations. However, it should be read together with not only the guidance notes but also the original Animal Health Act 1981.

The main purpose of this Bill (but NOT its sole one or it would say so) is to provide additional powers to deal with Foot and Mouth Disease (FMD) and transmissible spongiform encephalopathies (TSE) in sheep. The Bill also makes a number of amendments to the enforcement provisions of the Animal Health Act 1981.

In the 1981 Act, the terms 'animals' and 'disease' are clearly defined, and unless the context otherwise requires, 'animals' means cattle, sheep, goats, and also all other ruminants and swine. Within the Act powers already exist to extend the definition of 'animals' to include any kind of mammal except man, and just about any other kind of creature. In the Act, the meaning of 'disease' is also clearly defined, and this definition can, by order, be extended to cover any other disease of animals.

In common with the Act, provisions under the Bill to extend the power to slaughter, in cases of specified diseases, does not and will not apply to non-susceptible and non-clinical carrier species (that is animals that can neither get nor transmit the specified disease in a clinical sense). Further, the Bill makes new offence of 'deliberately infecting an animal with a certain disease or intending to do so'. The specified diseases to which this new offence relates are listed in Schedule 2A of the Bill.

Further, horse owners should not be concerned about African Horse Sickness, listed in Schedule 2A. Whilst the disease is endemic in tropical regions of Africa, only a few cases have been reported outside Africa, such as the Near and Middle East (1959-63), in Spain (1966, 1987-90) and in Portugal (1989). This disease is not directly contagious; it can only be passed from one horse to another by a biological vector such as infected mosquitoes.

The UK and Europe already have strict import (and export) controls vital to disease control and surveillance.

Nichola Gregory
BHS Press Office
British Horse Society
Stoneleigh Deer Park
Warwickshire CV8 2XZ
Direct line: 08701 20 88 80

Members of the BHS might like to query this statement: N.Gregory@bhs.org.uk You will receive the one line reply "I am passing your comments on to our head of Welfare." but it is still worth letting them know politely that they may be rather underestimating the powers in this bill - not to mention the fact that it tacitly admits that the powers DEFRA used so insensitively for eight long months were illegal. Many farmers were not prepared to exchange their healthy animals for inflated compensation but, not having access to lawyers, were cajoled or intimidated or forced to give them up for slaughter. DEFRA were acting illegally. This bill would make such bullying legal - and, retrospectively, justify the past cruel treatment of farmers and their animals.