I have a feeling I’m going to be thrown on a spit and slowly roasted for suggesting this, but has the time come for New Zealand and Australia to have compulsory horse passports?
The key arguments that will be rallied against the idea are pretty predictable: “beware of Big Brother” and “think of the cost”.
The last thing we want is another layer of bureaucracy in this world, but there comes a time when the greater good is actually served by rules and regulations.
How many times have we bitched about the building code and the occasionally pedantic ways of local council building inspectors? In Canterbury, where the city of Christchurch suffered close to $6 billion in damage from a swarm of earthquakes without loss of life, few people are complaining now.
The case for horse passports is most compelling in Australia, where the industry is working towards an agreement with the federal government on how the industry will be levied should there ever be another exotic disease outbreak, such as the equine flu incursion of 2007.
The deal goes like this: If another disease outbreak occurs, the federal government will fund eradication and control efforts provided a structure is in place so it can recover the cash through a levy on the horse industry.
The industry has until December 1 to reach agreement, and it looks at this stage as if a levy will be proposed on prepared horse feeds and deworming agents.
The Stock Feed Manufacturers’ Council of Australia is not happy. Its executive officer, John Spragg, has come up with a list of reasons why he thinks it’s unfair and illogical, saying it will affect sales and amounts to a tax on horse feed.
Mr Spragg is, of course, right. The manufacturers of dewormers should feel equally aggrieved.
However, unless you’re looking at putting a whole new system in place – such as a horse passport system – it’s hard to imagine what else you can levy. Horse shoes? Breed registrations? Vet visits? Carrots?
All are inequitable and unfair to varying degrees.
Mr Spragg hit the nail on the head when he said the horse industry must take responsibility for collecting the levy, rather than trying to “push the responsibility up the supply chain to manufacturers”.
The only truly equitable way is to require all horses to be registered with a central agency and a passport-like document issued for each horse, much like the requirement in the European Union.
The end result will be a valuable database in the event of future disease incursions. The passport itself could be used as a formal record of ownership, transfer of ownership, vaccination and drug use, particularly the likes of phenylbutazone, which renders a horse ineligible for entry into the human food chain.
What of those who refuse to obtain the passports? There will always be those who don’t toe the line, but if all show entries and other horse-related events require the sighting of the passport for each horse entered, I guess they’ll be resigned to just hacking around their neighbourhood.
The passport would require annual renewal for a modest amount, and this could be lifted if ever the need to levy horse owners to repay the federal government is required.
The horse industry could even build up a little nest egg to make the pain easier when or if future disease incursions occurred, as some livestock industries already do.
The argument is less compelling for New Zealand, but I still think, on balance, the benefits of a passport system would outweight the downside.
Cost? Of course there will be a cost. But isn’t there a cost in just about everything we do in life? Permits, consents, insurances, taxes of all descriptions?
The other worrying factor in the Australian proposal is that things like tax policies really do alter people’s behaviour. They encourage people to palm money off into trusts, gift it to close relatives, income-split. You name it, people will do it if it means saving tax.
Lifting the price of horse feed and deworming agents WILL alter behaviour. People will grow more hay, perhaps feed more chaff and other non-processed feeds to save money. Some will foolishly buy prepared feeds designed for other animals to save some cash. It would be naive to think they won’t.
Owners will deworm their horses less often.
There is no ideal solution, of course. But to me, horse passports seem the fairest option, despite the inevitable cost in getting such a system up and running.
Anyway, I’m ready for the roasting. About four hours at 180 degrees should do it.