As a devolved issue, the SNP take animal welfare extremely seriously. The SNP has been vocal in addressing concerns in this area at a UK level and remains committed in the Scottish Government to take steps to strengthen animal welfare legislation.
The Animal Health and Welfare (Scotland) Act 2006 makes the keeper of an animal responsible for its welfare and permits the prosecution of those who do not ensure such welfare such as the need for a suitable environment; the need for a suitable diet; the need for the animals to exhibit normal behavioural patterns; any need for the animals to be housed with, or apart from, other animals; the need for protection from suffering, injury, and disease.
Animal welfare is covered by devolved legislation under the Animal Health and Welfare (Scotland) Act 2006. In relation to the 2006 Act, the Scottish Government has stated: “The Act also has the flexibility to allow a wide range of animal related activities, such as circuses, animal sanctuaries, pet dealing, animal racing and livery yards to be regulated”.
For horses in Scotland, microchipping became compulsory on 1 July 2009 and aids accurate identification as it provides a permanent link between the horse and its passport. Microchipping helps to recover and identify stolen and abandoned horses, as well as assist with welfare cases.
All horses, ponies and donkeys must have a horse passport. In Scotland, it is the responsibility of the keeper to apply for a horse passport. In most cases, the keeper is likely to be the owner.
Horse passports contain details about your horse, including: its unique life number (UELN); its microchip code number; its age; its breed/type; and all the vaccinations it has been given and any medicine that would affect its food chain status. Without this passport, horses cannot be sent to slaughter for human consumption in Scotland.
The passport helps to:
make sure horses treated with certain medicines do not end up as food for human consumption
prevent the sale of a stolen horse, pony or donkey, as the passport will prove its identity
Upon the death of your horse you must return the passport to the issuing body within 30 days. They are required by law to invalidate the passport (and, if a microchip was implanted, the microchip number). You may however request that the issuing body return it once they have finished with it.
If your horse is slaughtered at an abattoir, it is the responsibility of the abattoir to return the passport to the issuing body within 30 working days. The horse can only be slaughtered if it is accompanied by a valid passport and Section II Part II, or Section II Part IX in the case of animals issued with a passport before 1 January 2016, shows it is intended for human consumption.
In the UK, it is legal to sell and consume horse meat. However, almost all horse meat produced in the UK is exported abroad.
The vast majority of horses which end up in slaughterhouses in the UK have been bred and abandoned. These breeders are often not licensed and may sell their horses to slaughterhouses when they cannot or don’t want to take care of them anymore.
In light of this Panorama show, up until January 2022, retired racehorses were also sent to slaughter for human consumption, with is now no longer permitted.
The programme prompted a rule change by the British Horseracing Authority last year that meant that any horses running in GB would have to be signed out of the human consumption food chain. Horses will still be able to be sent to an abattoir as a method of being put down humanely but will no longer be sold for food.
This applies to all domestically trained runners in Great Britain, and will mean entries are not accepted if it has not been declared - via the Weatherbys app and the horse's passport - that the horse is not intended for human consumption. The intention is for it to cover international runners, and the BHA is currently liaising with other jurisdictions.
SNP MPs will seek to raise this issue with the DEFRA Minister on animal welfare grounds, including bringing back the fabled Kept Animals Bill that was shelved by the Tories which sought to better regulate the live import and export of animals for slaughter. The SNP continue to call for greater strengthening of animal welfare legislation in the UK.