3 April 1998

Sick horses can be denied drugs

THE Continental taste for horse flesh could put all horses and ponies at risk of unnecessary suffering, Sue Dyson told the National Equine Forum.

Dr Dyson, immediate past president of the British Equine Veterinary Association, was calling for more research in order that a wide range of drugs may be licensed for use on horses and ponies.

In Europe horses are classified as food animals and unless a drug has been tested and its maximum residue levels shown to present no threat to food safety, it cannot be used to treat horse injuries or illnesses. Many drugs currently in use in the UK have not been tested and cleared and are unlikely to be so. The long list includes some local anaesthetics, fluids administered during surgery and the pain killer commonly known as Bute. This is already banned in Belgium, Germany, Holland and Sweden, which Dr Dyson described as "the tip of the iceberg".

In the UK vets must tell clients on whose animals such products have been used to ensure that their horses never get into the food chain, says Dr Dyson. But companies will not go on producing drugs with demand limited to UK customers.

The British Equine Veterinary Association, which fears the development of a black market trade in medicines could endanger both animal welfare and public health, is urging people to alert their MPs to the situation. The European Federation of Veterinarians is to put a number of questions on drug licensing to the European Commission.

In time all horses will have to have some permanent form of identification and have passports on which drug information can be recorded in order to stop affected horses getting into the food chain, Dr Dyson said.

Since Jan 1 all horses and ponies in the UK registered for international sporting activities, with breed societies or with the British Horse Database, have to have MAFF-approved passports. Unregistered horses and ponies do not.

&#42 Business rates

The burden of business rates is contributing to the rapid decline in the number of riding schools. Closures have risen from 34/year to about 100/year, said Lord Cope, chairman of the Horse and Pony Taxation Committee.

A new practice note on the valuation of riding schools livery stables and other equestrian premises has been issued by the governments chief valuation officer. All proprietors of equestrian businesses should study this paper and consider their own valuations, said Lord Cope, pointing out that it is wrong to compare a riding school with a warehouse and use the same value a square foot.

The ASBR is trying to get some test cases to put to local authorities where it may be argued that the riding schools are essential to the local economy of their rural areas but are suffering financially. "They can be considered for rates reductions in the same way as village shops," said Lord Cope, "but purely at the discretion of the councils concerned."

The Horse and Pony Taxation Committee is backing a campaign for special rate reductions for riding schools. "The government rejected this last autumn, saying that riding schools were the same as golf courses, etc. But we keep trying because the figures for the decline in the number of riding schools is very serious and getting worse," said Lord Cope.

"Get to know your MP, get to know your MEP," he added, pointing out that the committee is trying to identify parliamentarians sympathetic to its points of view.

Ann Rogers