European Commission May Force U-Turn On Horse Passports Database

European commission may force U-turn on horse passports database

Government ended funding for national database last September and now leaves recording to 75 different bodies
David Heath
David Heath, the minister for agriculture and the environment. Photograph: Daniel Berehulak/Getty Images
Britain may have to make an embarrassing U-turn over a decision not to fund a national database for horse passports as the EU seeks to tighten controls in the wake of the horsemeat scandal.

As UK ministers announced a review of the government's handling of the crisis, it emerged that the European commission wants every country to have a central database of horse movements, including through abattoirs.

Britain had a national database until ministers ended funding last September, and now leaves recording to 75 different bodies. The commission plans to introduce new EU rules on the identification of horses, ponies and donkeys within months. These will make a central database mandatory and cut the number of bodies empowered to issue passports.

David Heath, Britain's minister for agriculture and the environment, promised a wide-ranging review of the government's response over the past three months "to help restore confidence", but did not say what its response would be to the commission's plans.

He said only that a meeting of experts across the EU last week had been "a useful exchange of views in advance of further discussions at official level later this week".

The charity World Horse Welfare has previously said ministers have been aware of the weaknesses in the UK passport system and that a good central IT system is needed.

The Guardian revealed last week that 2% of all carcasses of horses sent for slaughter are found to contain the veterinary medicine bute – although since February they have not been allowed to leave abattoirs until test results have been delivered.

Details of the government's review will be published by the environment secretary, Owen Paterson, soon. Heath said police investigations into "completely unacceptable" food fraud were continuing, and said it was right that "any weaknesses in our food system and the controls it is subject to are identified and dealt with".

Mary Creagh, Labour's environment spokeswoman, said the present passport system was a mess and ministers' "short-sighted and reckless decision" to scrap the database last year had made it harder to track horses intended for the human food chain.

"Any new database must be compatible with Ireland and France if we are to have horses moving freely between our three countries," she said.

Last week Asda reported that its smart price corned beef had tested positive for very low levels of bute, which is banned from the human food chain. The corned beef had previously been found to contain horse DNA, and is the only product to test positive for bute since the scandal began.
Officials have said horsemeat containing bute at very low levels presents a very low risk to human health. Twenty-four products in the UK have been named as containing more than 1% horsemeat.
Last week the Netherlands recalled 50,000 tonnes of meat sold across Europe as beef over a two-year period which may contain horsemeat. A small number of UK businesses may have received products from a trading company selling the meat.
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