Hot Branding to be Performed Under Anesthesia in Germany

Hot Branding to be Performed Under Anesthesia in Germany

Photo: Nicolas Lesté-Lasserre

Hot-iron branding will not be banned in Germany despite a recent proposal to the country’s parliament, according to the German ministry of agriculture. However, the procedure will soon only be legal when performed under local or general anesthesia.

“Leg branding (in horses) has a meaning as a visible mark of belonging to a breed association and is of importance for some breeders today,” said Vera Müller, spokesperson for the Federal Ministry of Food, Agriculture, and Consumer Protection (BMELV) of Germany in Berlin, in an interview with The Horse. “The German Bundestag has therefore, contrary to the recommendation of the ministry, decided not to ban hot iron branding. However, (the parliament ruled) from 2019 on to allow the process only under anesthesia, for example, by topical application of veterinary drugs.”

The BMELV had requested a ban of the leg branding process in its country, citing that it was “obsolete” since the European Union (EU) mandated identification via microchips in 2009, Müller said. The potential ban was the subject of intense debate this time last year as the proposal was being prepared for vote by the German parliament. At that time, the ministry had expected the vote to pass by the end of the year.

However, the government has rejected the bill banning the practice and replaced it with a requirement to use local or general anesthesia during hot iron branding of horses.

“There are obviously a lot of politics involved in this discussion in Germany,” said Christine Aurich, DVM, PhD, professor at the Graf Lehndorff Institute at the University of Veterinary Sciences in Vienna. Aurich’s research team has led studies on the impact of branding on horses. “In my opinion it is ridiculous to decide that local anesthesia is good or necessary (and) to postpone its use until 2019. What about the foals that are branded until 2019?”

Aurich believes local anesthesia might not be the best solution in terms of equine welfare. She said her research has identified elevated heat in the burn area for at least a week, which would probably require pain management. Furthermore, she suggested that if a foal doesn’t react to the branding because it is anesthetized, the handler might hold the brand in place longer, leading to a more severe burn.

“Local anesthesia for the branding procedure is probably not appropriate and might even increase the problems associated with burn injury,” she said, adding that if branding is carried out, she would recommend administering antiphlogistics (anti-inflammatories, such as phenylbutazone) to foals for a week.

“We think that the branding procedure is outdated, and for safe and reliable identification of horses, modern techniques like the microchip should be preferred,” she added. Microchips could be read in 100% of horses in a recent study Aurich completed when placed correctly and read with an appropriate reader.

“For better acceptance it might be interesting to discuss the location of the microchip and also which person should apply the chip,” said Aurich. “If there are complications with lay people, veterinarians might be a better choice.”

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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