Under EU law, responsibility for compliance with food safety and traceability requirements rests, in the first instance, with food business operators. This is augmented by official controls, applied at different stages in the food supply chain.
My Department implements official controls in regard to horse identification at marts and other sales venues, abattoirs and points of entry to the country. All equines, which include horses, ponies and donkeys, are required to be identified in accordance with EU and national legislation. Equines issued with a passport after 1 July 2009 must have a corresponding microchip implanted by a veterinarian. It is recorded in the passport and creates a link between the passport and the animal. The passport includes information on any veterinary medicines administered to equines. An equine for slaughter for human consumption must be accompanied to the slaughterhouse by its passport, and the information on the passport determines whether the animal can be slaughtered for human consumption. Horses treated with certain veterinary medicines such as phenylbutazone, known in the industry as "bute", are permanently excluded from the human food chain in order to protect human health, and the passport of the horse in question is endorsed by the prescribing veterinary practitioner to this effect.
My Department has detailed procedures for the slaughter of horses in abattoirs under its supervision and has communicated these and the checks required both to its staff and the business operators. It has liaised with passport-issuing agencies in Ireland and has developed protocols to allow abattoir operators to check the details of passports with these agencies to seek to ensure that they are valid and that only those horses eligible for slaughter are slaughtered. Where forged or tampered passports accompanying horses to slaughter are detected, it is the policy that such animals are destroyed and removed from the food chain.
I can confirm that my Department has received a small number of complaints in this area. While the Department does not comment on ongoing investigations, appropriate corrective action is taken if non-compliance is detected. I can advise that during 2011-12 my Department issued two compliance notices to horse slaughter plants; the approval of one slaughter plant was temporarily suspended and the approval of another was voluntarily suspended. The approval of one organisation, the Irish Cob Society, to maintain a stud book and issue horse passports was revoked last autumn.
Additional information not given on the floor of the House
Ongoing vigilance is maintained regarding official controls in this area. In that connection, the European Communities (Equine) (Amendment) Regulations, S.I. No. 371/2012, introduced recently, provide for the updating of S.I. No. 357/2011, European Communities (Equine) Regulations 2011, to strengthen the powers of the Minister relating to approval of an issuing body for equine passports, authorised officers and prosecutions relating to equine identification. My Department is developing a central database of horses which will involve migration of selected data from passport-issuing organisations to the Department. The database will be populated with information provided from the databases maintained by the passport-issuing organisations, by the Department from records obtained from sources such as slaughter plants and knackeries; and by local authority veterinary inspectors in respect of records maintained at appropriate slaughter plants.