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Call for Senate Inquiry into Horse Identification and Traceability Scheme

February 2019 by Cristina Wilkins
Cristina is the Editor, owner and publisher of Horses and People Magazine.

Despite overwhelming industry support towards a national database for all horses, there has been little progress made so far. Last week, Greens Senator Mehreen Faruqi launched an online petition for an inquiry into a National Horse Traceability Register.

Senator Faruqi's online petition page can be found here.

The need for a national database or registry of all horses has been discussed at endless government committees since the outbreak of Equine Influenza in 2007. A 2016 NSW survey that asked 2000 horse owners around Australia if they were in favour of a national horse database showed overwhelming support.

A senate inquiry would move this important issue forward and, importantly, provide an opportunity to bring the voices of the horse industry constructively together.

Currently, organisations that register horses, such as clubs, stud books and associations, have their own independent systems of equine identification. Some horses may be in multiple registries while others are left out without any record of their existence or traceability. A single database could also encourage coherence within the entire industry and provide avenues for sharing of information between different bodies.

A horse register where every horse has an official record and traceability can be as simple as connecting data from existing registers on a central database that allows owners to use an app to add their horse/s, change contact details or search and confirm a new horse’s past owner history before buying.

An example of such a database is the UELN (Universal Equine Life Number) in Europe which aims to ensure that each horse has a single, lifetime identification document, a method to ensure an unequivocal link between the identification document and the animal, and a database recording under a unique ID number the details relating to the animal.

The UELN has been set up as a supporting system for individual studbooks, registries and other databases. Under the UELN, horses have a unique number allocated to them as part of their breed or organisation's registration. Organisations then have the option to share some, little or minimum data with other bodies.

One of the great benefits of the UELN to horse owners and organisations is the data sharing tool that facilitates the exchanges of data between central, stud book, federation and other databases. Every partner in the project is able to manage access authorisations to its database, and share information about horses (e.g. for competition, breeding, biosecurity, etc.)

In Australia, traceability of horses has important consequences for biosecurity, theft, welfare and safety.

Australian racing authorities have previously stated that "Traceability is the cornerstone of integrity and will underpin the industry’s drive on animal welfare standards. The fact that a significant number of Thoroughbreds are not regulated by any authority is unacceptable in the modern era where community values and expectations have evolved from the past. It is the view of Racing Australia that this initiative is a paramount obligation of racing authorities and that regulation is essential to ensure best practices in animal welfare across all Thoroughbreds in the industry.”

Many welfare groups and equestrians are questioning the treatment of horses and the discussions are threatening equestrian sports' social licence to operate. Identification and traceability of all horses for life would contribute transparency and potentially help re-build trust with the public.

Traceability could also impact human safety. Statistically, the horse is the most dangerous animal to humans in Australia, more so than sharks, snakes and spiders.  With almost 20 deaths a year and one hospital admission somewhere everyday around Australia. Having access to a horse's past information would help owners making management and training decisions.

Traceability is also paramount for biosecurity. We simply do not know how many horses are in Australia, what their conditions is, what their history is, or where they are. This information will prove invaluable when there is another disease outbreak.

Senator Faruqi's online petition page can be found here.