Horse Passports in England Save Equine Medicines

In response to a threat several years ago that horses in England might not be allowed to use many currently available medications because of the potential of having unauthorized medications reach the human food chain through exported horsemeat, all owners of equids in England must have a passport for their animals. These passports will declare whether the animal is a potential human food product, and that declaration cannot be changed.

Horse owners must apply for passports by Dec. 31, 2003, for all horses, ponies, other equids such as donkeys, and crossbreds, or face prosecution for not following legislation that was announced on Feb. 14, 2002, according to the United Kingdom's Department for Environment Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA). Starting Jan. 1, 2004, it will be illegal to sell a horse without a passport. Penalties for not getting a passport for every equine can be up to £5,000 (approximately $8,360 US) or up to one month in prison.

In 2002, about 8,000 horse carcasses were exported for human consumption from England, according to DEFRA. The legislation is intended to prevent animals which have received medications not authorized for use in food-producing animals from being consumed by humans. In addition, the new law will allow veterinarians to continue to prescribe these medications to horses, as long as the animals are not intended for human consumption. It is estimated that three out of every four veterinary medicines used in horses are not allowed in animals intended for human consumption.

The owner applying for a passport will have to declare if the horse is eventually intended for human consumption, and if he is, a record of the date certain medicines have been administered must be kept. Once a horse has been declared as “not for human consumption,” subsequent owners cannot change this declaration. The Food Standards Agency will be enforcing checks at slaughterhouses, and local authorities will be responsible for all other enforcement of the new legislation. All horses must have a passport by six months of age (or before if permanently leaving his place of birth).

According to DEFRA, the legislation, which will have its final draft released before the end of the year, received widespread support from the equine industry. “The majority of organizations consulted support the principle of passports and see why they are necessary,” said Rachel Shaw, spokesperson for the DEFRA press office. “Some concerns have been expressed about what will be the practical arrangements, and the government is taking these views into account.”

Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland are expected to introduce similar legislation.

In a press release, DEFRA said that the passport requirement “will satisfy the European Commission that the United Kingdom has a viable method of identifying horses that have been treated with medicines that must not be administered to food-producing animals. Failure to provide such an assurance could result in the European Commission removing its approval of these veterinary medicines. As these drugs are commonly available and are in widespread use throughout the equine industry, there would be potential horse welfare issues if they were no longer available.”

For more information on the medications in question, click here.

In addition, it is hoped that the legislation will make it harder to sell stolen horses, since it will be illegal to sell a horse without a passport, and every passport will verify the horses age, ownership information, and identification details.

“A longer term benefit to the equine industry will be the proposed National Equine Database (NED) that will record details of every horse issued with a passport in the UK,” reported DEFRA. “It is envisioned that the NED will benefit the equine industry in providing information for enhanced breeding programs and research.”

According to Shaw, “The National Equine Database is a development being taken forward in partnership between industry and government. There are various stages to go through before it will be operational.”

She said that the database has two main purposes. The first purpose for the NED is to assist industry goals for a breeding program designed to improve the competitiveness of the Great Britain sport horse. Second, the NED will help DEFRA in a number of areas, particularly in the control of animal diseases that affect horses, ponies, and donkeys. It will also allow DEFRA to compile a record of how many horses are in the country and where they are located.

DEFRA has sent out reminders about the passports to more than 1,700 equine establishments, including riding schools, equestrian centers, stables, farriers, breeding facilities, riding supply shops, and veterinarians, about the deadline. A leaflet published by DEFRA is a “part of the major push by the government to raise awareness of horses owners by Dec. 31, 2003,” according to a DEFRA news release.

Currently, more than 70 Passport Issuing Organizations, or PIOs, are issuing passports, with the cost being determined by each organization. According to Shaw, “No central information exists about the number of passports issued to date. The level of compliance so far is not known. We understand that PIOs are busy, but there are a number of horse owners who are waiting to apply for a passport once the final content of the legislation has been published.”

The average cost is £20 to £30 ($33-$50 US). However, some organizations are offering discounts depending on the number of passports needed. The British Horse Society has authorized the issuance of cheaper passports for affiliated riding schools and charities. For a list of organizations that distribute passports, visit, contact DEFRA at 08459 335577, or visit DEFRA’s web site at

A passport will be valid for the lifetime of the horse, and a silhouette (sketch/diagram) of the horse must be completed with a signature by a person authorized by the PIO.

Those wishing to import a horse into the UK from a country outside of the European Union for a stay of more than 30 days and those importing a horse for permanent residence from a European Union country will also need to obtain a passport.

One exception to the new law is for ponies that run free in Dartmoor and in the New Forest. These ponies will need to be listed on a central register with their respective authorities—the Dartmoor Commoners Council, the Exmoor Pony Society, and the New Forest Verderers. Once a pony leaves one of these areas, he will then require a passport.


About the Author

Sarah Evers Conrad

Sarah Evers Conrad has a bachelor’s of arts in journalism and equine science from Western Kentucky University. As a lifelong horse lover and equestrian, Conrad started her career at The Horse: Your Guide to Equine Health Care magazine. She has also worked for the United States Equestrian Federation as the managing editor of Equestrian magazine and director of e-communications and served as content manager/travel writer for a Caribbean travel agency. When she isn’t freelancing, Conrad spends her free time enjoying her family, reading, practicing photography, traveling, crocheting, and being around animals in her Lexington, Kentucky, home.

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