Nobody is advocating putting horses that are out for late registration back into the food chain. There is another category of horses for which there are no figures, namely, horses that are out for medicinal treatment. An unknown number of horses receiving medicinal treatment are out of the food chain. Many of these horses are on holdings that are drawing farm payments. They are considered a farm animal and the raising and breeding of horses is considered an agricultural activity. There is nobody advocating putting horses where we cannot verify them.
Even in the case of horses that go into the food chain, when we compare them with other farm animals, audits for dairy and beef farm animals are carried out under the sustainable dairy assurance scheme, SDAS, and by Bord Bia, but no questions are asked about the medicinal treatment, traceability or registration of horses on the same farm holding and in the same enterprise. Farm payments will be drawn down for the herd number and horses are on the farm. As the Chairman has said, our online passport is entirely voluntary. We have liaised with people with online expertise about how to do this.
With regard to cattle registration, for instance, a calf can be registered in 20 days. That cannot be done with a horse if there is DNA and a microchip because the microchip has to be inserted by the competent person. Personally, I believe a farmer or breeder would be able to do that but, as matters stands, this is not allowed. Nobody advocating putting horses back into the food chain. It seems we do not want to have figures on the number of horses we have. Horses are being registered without pedigree. They could be of any breed, whether an Irish draught horse or a thoroughbred.
Every enterprise that is sustainable has an entry and exit and we should improve the entire sector. This year, we have three teams going to the Olympics. They are not a reflection of the full industry. We want to include everybody and make horse ownership affordable to everybody. Horses are used for people with autism and special needs. They are as good in their line of work as the horses going to the Olympics. They have a world-class talent and DNA. We should not front-load the price to disadvantage people. Where there is a scheme, there are schemers. Through ignorance and its application, the legislation has unintended consequences.
In the cattle sector, there is one central database and one entity deals with it on behalf of the Department. It deals with all of the registrations. There could be 40,000 calves registered within a week at peak times and the database can deal with that. The number of horses being registered, both thoroughbred and non-thoroughbred, is much smaller and they are registered over a large part of the year. We want an online database that handles movements and registrations, as is the case with cattle and dogs. People should have a registration number and be educated as regards ownership, be that for dogs or equines. While people's hearts may be in the right place, the unintended consequence of owning a dog is that something might go wrong when the owner lets a dog go for a run while out for a walk. If the dog does something wrong, is it the dog's fault or that of the owner?
We have no interest in putting horses into the food chain that cannot be accounted for. At the moment, medicinal treatment can be bought without prescription and given to a horse without the supervision of a vet. The problem is that it may not be given to the horse to which it is supposed to be given. If a horse is stamped out of the food chain, that horse can have medicinal treatment bought for it in compliance with the relevant regulations and with an appropriate passport because it is alive and well, on a holding and has an equine number. However, phenylbutazone or bute can be administered to another horse, including by mistake. Horses could eat out of the same feed containers and it could be administered through the feed. Another horse could actually ingest the medicine. When that horse goes for inspection, it will have a clean passport and will be eligible for the food chain.
We have owners in the upper end of the equine industry, both the thoroughbred and non-thoroughbred sectors, who have stamped horses out for medicinal treatment. That is fine. They can afford these horses and they can compete in the Curragh, the RDS or wherever. If something goes wrong, however, why should the taxpayer subsidise these horses' end-of-life care if the owners who can afford to do so are knowingly putting them out of the food chain in order that they can administer whatever medicinal treatment is deemed necessary by the keeper on a given day? Why should the taxpayer be potentially left facing a bill for a horse that the owner is fully capable of paying for to compete at international level? At the end of its life, it is not worth anything. What difference will it make to the taxpayer when nobody knows about it and the cost of caring for it is indirect cost? Nobody realises the taxpayer pays that cost.
We have an unknown number of horses, possibly running in the thousands. There is more medicinal treatment on the competition side of the sector. We have a big thoroughbred industry and a good number of horses competing in the non-thoroughbred sector. It is in that side of the industry, rather than the breeding side, that more medicinal treatment is given. That does not excuse anybody who makes that decision. These people are drawing down farm payments of up to six-figure sums and areas of natural constraint, ANC, payments and it is the taxpayer who pays.
Another point about the practice of stamping animals out of the food chain is that donkeys can be included for the purpose of drawing down farm payments, whereas horses were excluded at one stage. That has created a problem because if anything happens to those animals, they have to be cared for by animal welfare. For how many years into the future will that be a cost? These farmers still have an entitlement of up to 50% for the ANC payments.
We have several passport issuing offices in the current system. We have no central hub or database, as exists for cattle. That is the problem. As long as we have that system in place, we will have fly-by-night operators, for want of a better term. Front-loading the cost would mean a charge of between €60 and €80 to call out a vet and another €62 plus €22 charge for a pedigree passport. The total cost would be nearly €170. The cost would be significantly higher for a thoroughbred horse. The cheap option is to register the horse without any pedigree. A thoroughbred horse can be registered as a non-thoroughbred animal. There is also the issue for the stallion owner who has covered the mare and supplied the semen. Stallion owners have no way of knowing if a live foal is born because they do not monitor what happens. With a DNA base, where an animal cannot be registered without a DNA record, the person would be able to claim back the money to which he or she is entitled. Some very good horses have been born and registered with white passports, as they are called, without any breeding being recorded. Some have competed to a very high level in the sport horse industry.
No one is advocating threatening food security. We are trying to rehabilitate that. All inspections, SDAS and everything else should include horses at farm level, the same as with cattle, and there should be a full record of medicinal treatment. I hope that explanation brings clarity.