How the new ePassport system could ease European horse movement post-Brexit
European Federation of Thoroughbred Breeders Associations backs technology
A growing campaign to ease the movement of breeding stock post-Brexit has been boosted by the support of the European Federation of Thoroughbred Breeders Associations.
EFTBA chairman Joe Hernon has written to Martin Blake, chief veterinary officer at the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine, calling on Ireland to support the pan-European adoption of High Health Breed (HHB) status for thoroughbred breeding stock, to be managed through the Weatherbys ePassport system which has just gone live.
The concept of tying HHB status to the new digital passports came from work carried out by a Brexit taskforce comprising leading administrators from Britain, Ireland and France, assembled with the aim of navigating a new way of operating horse movement after the end of the Tripartite Agreement with Britain's exit of the European Union.
The plan is to use the current structure of statutory certification by accredited laboratories for breeding stock against three diseases - CEM, EIA and EVA - to create a unique digital identifier which can be uploaded to the ePassport.
"Governments need reassurance that this is not self-certification and in this case it very definitely isn’t," said taskforce member Des Leadon of the Irish Equine Centre. "The blood samples need to be taken by a registered veterinarian in your country of origin, and so do the swabs.
"They have to go from them to the accredited laboratory. And what we've asked the accredited laboratories to do that is new, is that as they issue the certificates, they add a QR or a bar code. That is the unique identifier of that animal and that result.
"That can be uploaded when all three results are in place. You can’t have partial HHB status in the same way that you can't rock up to a stud with an EIA and an EVA certificate but no [negative test result for] CEM.
"When you have all three, that gives you HHB status, and that's on your ePassport. You can present that anywhere at any time. That status, just like the existing system of paper certification, is valid for the year, unless the horse becomes infected with those diseases, which in our environment is extraordinarily unlikely."
While the digitalisation of the health certificates will simplify the process of booking a mare to be covered, it will also provide governments with real time data on the health status of the thoroughbred population in a given country.
And its proponents believe that the HHB status should give confidence to those governments and the EU that much of the new regulatory burden pre-travel and at border inspection posts could be dispensed with.
Without a bespoke solution for the thoroughbred breeding industry, those burdens are likely to only increase when the UK brings in its own border inspection posts next year to match those installed in Ireland and France.
"Weatherbys data shows very clearly that our international coverings between the former Tripartite nations is down by 60 per cent, while the data is similar in Germany," said Leadon.
"Some individual stud farmers will say that is not their experience. It may not be if you are standing an elite sire or if you have a significant shareholding in your stallion from overseas investors.
"But I spoke to the management team of a very well known stud who said they had booked no international coverings this year at all. They reported covering international mares based here permanently, but not one single mare that had travelled across a border this year."
As well as the EFTHBA, the proposed adoption of HHB status has received the backing of the International Code of Practice Committee of industry veterinary advisers and Weatherbys, whose Simon Cooper is a member of the taskforce.
Hernon said: "We have a good relationship with our chief veterinary officers and their chief, Martin Blake. He has acknowledged receipt of the letter and they are due to have a meeting this week. We expect them to endorse it, we think they will and they have given us all the green lights.
"From the farm gate point of view, people abroad that I deal with and sell nominations to - and we send mares abroad as well - like to know that their high-value bloodstock is travelling seamlessly and safely, without being caught up at border checkpoints.
"Now coming up to the yearling sales and the breeding stock sales at Tattersalls, Arqana and Goffs, we've got to have movement of these horses in and out. This is a way to do it."
Hernon added: "Everything that goes onto the sales ground will have its certification and they can move, rather than what has happened where some horses have been held up in England, returning to Ireland or France, for a week or ten days, while waiting for their certificates to be redone and redrawn in England.
"The HHB policy is a way around all that and we support it unequivocally. We've got to get it right."