'I promise I will not eat my horse'

June 24, 2009

by Neil Clarkson

The media has been having a field day over European Union legislation requiring horse owners to supposedly undertake that they will not eat their horse.

"I hereby declare that I will not eat my horse or pony," the mass circulation tabloid, The Sun, headlined its take on the story.

Describing the new EU rules as barmy, The Sun reported that horse owners must sign a pledge not to eat their pets - or face up to two years in jail.

United Kingdom Independence Party leader Nigel Farage was quoted as saying: "I'd like to be a fly on the wall when the Queen and Princess Anne are asked to sign a form saying they're not going to eat their horses."

Bloggers and the like have taken up the story with glee, providing yet more grist for the mill for those who delight in the obscure, quirky and sometimes downright bizarre twists and turns found in the growing mountain of EU regulations.

The "pledge" is part of EU regulations around horse identification which come into force in Britain on July 1.

The regulations recognise the fact that horses regularly enter the food chain in continental Europe.

The regulations will require all foals born after July 1, and horses born before June 30 that have not yet been issued with an equine passport, to have a microchip implanted by a veterinary surgeon when their owners apply for a passport.

Compulsory microchipping will aid accurate identification as it provides a permanent link between the horse and its lifetime passport, Britain's Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs explains.

The microchips, to be placed in a horse's neck by a veterinarian, will match the passport.

"Horse passports will clearly identify those horses which are not eligible for the food chain if they have been treated with substances which are potentially harmful to humans.

"By strengthening the current passport system we reduce the risk to human health, avoid the withdrawal of key veterinary medicines, and protect the horse meat trade in this country."

Microchipping will also help recover and identify stolen and abandoned horses, as well assist with welfare cases.

The new EU regulation provides for a standardised format to exclude a horse from the food chain if certain medicines are used, or to suspend its slaughter for human consumption for six months if treatment is carried out with another set of listed medications. The passport must accompany an animal to slaughter.

The so-called pledge is actually about opting an animal out of the food chain.

The regulations state: "An equine animal shall be deemed to be intended for slaughter for human consumption, unless it is irreversibly declared as not so intended in Part II of Section IX of the identification document, by the signature of:

  1. the keeper or owner on his/her own discretion, or

  2. the keeper and the veterinarian responsible, acting in accordance with Article 10(2) of Directive 2001/82/EC."

A horse's passport can therefore be marked accordingly, or at a later date by a vet should medications be used that disqualify the animal from the food chain.

Actually, seeing the Queen and Princess Anne signing isn't so hard to imagine after all.