Heated Debate Over Potential Hot Branding Ban in Germany

Heated Debate Over Potential Hot Branding Ban in Germany

If the proposal passes the parliamentary vote as expected in fall 2012, German horse breeders will no longer be allowed to brand their horses with a hot iron. Here, a Trakehner brand is seen on a colt's hind quarters.

Photo: Nicolas Lesté-Lasserre

This week, against a background of heated debate, the German minister of agriculture approved a federal ban on hot iron branding of horses.

If the proposal passes the parliamentary vote as expected in fall 2012, German horse breeders will no longer be allowed to brand their horses with a hot iron, according to Mareike Enderle, spokesperson for the German Ministry of Food, Agriculture, and Consumer Protection (BMELV).

The issue has met with strong opposition from major German Warmblood breed associations--in particular the Holsteiner, Trakehner, and Hanoverian breeds--since it was originally proposed in October 2010. Last month, an animal welfare organization added fuel to the fire at a Hanoverian elite foal show and sale, displaying large posters of a woman with a Hanoverian brand burn on her bare back .

Despite recent research indicating that hot iron branding is no more stressful for horses than microchipping, German Minister of Agriculture Ilse Aigner wants to see branding forbidden in order to protect equine welfare, according to Enderle. "Scientific experts do not agree about the effects of branding on horses, and we are still talking about a third-degree burn which is very painful," she said. "We hope the bill passes the vote."

Hans-Joachim Götz, DVM, president of the German Veterinary Association, also approves the ban, Enderle added. "For Götz, hot iron branding is no longer consistent with modern equine welfare standards."

European law has required identification of horses via microchipping since 2009. However, many breeders continue to brand their horses in addition to microchipping. Last September, President of the German Equestrian Federation (FN) Breido Graf zu Rantzau presented Aigner with 35,000 signatures opposing the bill.

"I think it is unacceptable and frivolous that without sound technical reasons, the future of the German horse breeding should be put at risk," the FN website quoted zu Rantzau as saying. "The experience gained with the identification transponder (the microchip) show demonstrable weaknesses."

Those weaknesses include the risk of tampering with microchips, errors in microchip readings, and bodily rejection of a foreign object, the website read. Meanwhile, branding is permanent and clearly visible to anyone, not just people with microchip readers.

The proposal is part of a general amendment to the animal welfare act, which also includes a ban on piglet castration without anesthesia starting in 2017 and stricter policies on using animals--particularly primates--in medical research. The bill will also limit the presence of wild animals in circuses, according to a BMELV press release.

Denmark and Scotland banned hot iron branding in 2009 and 2012, respectively.

About the Author

Christa Lesté-Lasserre, MA

Christa Lesté-Lasserre is a freelance writer based in France. A native of Dallas, Texas, Lesté-Lasserre grew up riding Quarter Horses, Appaloosas, and Shetland Ponies. She holds a master’s degree in English, specializing in creative writing, from the University of Mississippi in Oxford and earned a bachelor's in journalism and creative writing with a minor in sciences from Baylor University in Waco, Texas. She currently keeps her two Trakehners at home near Paris. Follow Lesté-Lasserre on Twitter @christalestelas.

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