England: Equine Microchip Law to Enter into Force

(Aug. 7, 2020) On October 1, 2020, regulations requiring all equines in England to be microchipped will enter into force in the country. The new regulations, the Equine Identification (England) Regulations 2018, revoke the Horse Passport (England) 2009 Regulations and introduce the Commission Implementing Regulation (EU) 2015/262 into the national law of England.

The regulations aim to improve the system of identifying equines and to “improve traceability during disease outbreaks as well as support appropriate resolution and enforcement in cases of loss, theft or lapses in welfare.” Under the regulations, every horse, pony, and donkey in England, regardless of age, is required to have a microchip and a valid identification document. The identification document contains the details of the microchip; the equine’s age, breed, and markings; the owner’s details; and all medications the equine has been on. The details contained in the identification document must be registered with the Central Equine Database (CED). Owners are under a legal obligation to report any changes to an equine’s ownership to a passport issuing organization, which then has one working day to update the CED with any new information.

The identification requirements do not extend to wild ponies and horses living in specified areas across England. Wild ponies over 12 months old that are moved outside these areas, enter into domestic use, or receive any veterinary medicinal product lose the exemption and must be microchipped and assigned an identification document.

While horse meat is not typically consumed in England, horsemeat and live horses may be transported to the EU and the horses then slaughtered for meat. The regulations thus also ensure that horses treated with veterinary medicines that can be harmful to humans do not enter the food chain. Conversely, veterinarians will be able to administer veterinary medicines to equines that may previously have been ineligible for such treatment because veterinarians are required to identify horses and may use certain medications only if the horse has been signed out of the human food chain.

Under the now revoked Horse Passport (England) 2009 Regulations, local authorities were responsible for enforcing the regulations. The costs and time involved in prosecuting these offenses resulted in few prosecutions. When introducing the 2018 Regulations, the government considered that “the same outcome in terms of compliance [with the Regulations] can be achieved in different ways” and introduced civil sanctions, which include compliance notices requiring remedial action to be taken to ensure compliance with the regulations. Local authorities may also recover costs and impose fixed monetary penalties of up to £200 (approximately US$260). Criminal proceedings may also be initiated against individuals who fail to comply with the regulations, but these may only be started after the local authority has pursued civil sanctions.

The new regulations have been welcomed by the British Horse Council, which has stated that

[h]aving all up-to-date data recorded on the CED will help us better protect our equine population in the event of a disease outbreak, as well as providing essential tools to help owners find their horses in the event of theft or straying. It should also give owners confidence that horses which have previously been signed out of the human food chain never end up in the abattoir.

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