Britain to lose its National Equine Database

The Princess Royal, Graham Suggett, and Nick Wallbridge
The Princess Royal, NED board consultant Graham Suggett, and NED technical consultant Nick Wallbridge at the launch of the NED in 2008.

Britain’s National Equine Database (NED)  is to close at the end of next month, leaving equestrian groups working to identify a viable alternative.

The withdrawal of state funding is responsible.

The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) recently confirmed its intention to stop its funding for NED, which manages data from passport issuing organisations on behalf of the Government.

NED’s online public website has been live since 2008 and an increasing number of users visit the site every day to search for horses, check passports and to report horses as lost, stolen and recovered.

Pedigree and performance data, which is provided voluntarily by the passport-issuing organisations and sporting organisations such as the Olympic disciplines of eventing, showjumping and dressage, are regularly used for research.

As Defra funding is to cease, and the cash generated by public use of the site is not enough to support it without state funding, the services provided by the public website will be withdrawn from the end of September.

NED operates under a service agreement with Defra to process data from over 75 passport-issuing organisations and hold the data in a central database system to help Defra’s compliance with food safety legislation.

The European Union does not insist on the existence of a central equine database, although many of the major European countries have developed a database to support horse passport regulations, inform breeding and in some cases to help plan for, monitor and control disease outbreaks.

Earlier in the year a tendering process for a new central equine database was initiated by the Government and companies were invited to submit bids through an online procurement portal.

Bidders were told, at the end of July, that on the basis of a cost-benefit analysis of the bids submitted in conjunction with the benefits of and need for a central system, Defra had decided that the contract would not be awarded to any of the bidders and that no new central, Defra-funded database would exist.

Horse industry bodies are considering options to preserve an equine database.

British Equestrian Federation chief executive Andrew Finding said: “Given the challenges of public expenditure we understand Defra’s decision; it is sad that they have decided not to continue to fund NED Ltd.

“We welcome their commitment to maintain and strengthen the requirements for passport-issuing organisations and address the serious issues of abandoned and fly-grazed horses and the introduction of additional measures to improve the quality and robustness of passports to protect the human food chain.

“For our part we are concerned, with our colleagues in the industry, especially in racing, about the need for robust disease surveillance to be underpinned by an effective database.

“We are also keen to retain a database for the Federation where we seek to support the effective breeding of British sport and recreational horses and ponies.

“We are thus determined to work with our colleagues in the industry and with the equine sector council, in an effective partnership with Defra and its Animal Health and Welfare Board for England, to find a solution that works for our industry and for the Government.

“We know that we must, in the long term, take responsibility for our affairs, yet require Defra’s support, to ensure that we are protected from equine diseases and yet can promote effective breeding programmes to achieve more success,” Finding said.

“Ours is a highly successful community and industry, the successes in racing and the wonderful results at the Olympic Games are fine testaments to this. ”

Finding said his federation believed there was a need an effective equine database.

“We must not lose the benefits we have built in NED; we must ensure we have an enduring product to meet our range of differing but important needs. And, once we have found a solution we should dedicate it as an Olympic Games legacy.

“We will set about this work with urgency and seek to keep our community informed of progress.”

The original NED contract was awarded to an external contractor by the British Government in 2005.

The database did not deliver its expected functions and in 2007 the British Equestrian Federation brought about a rescue operation and, in partnership with Defra, formed NED Ltd which resulted in a redesign of the database before its public launch in 2008.

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