THE Horse Trust has welcomed proposals to tighten horse movement rules between Britain, Ireland and France following the horse meat scandal in Europe.

Defra has proposed that the longstanding tri-partite agreement (TPA) which allows horses to travel between Britain, Ireland and France without a health certificate, reverts to its original status. This would result in stricter rules on movement of horses between the three countries.

The proposed changes would help prevent spread of disease and welfare problems by protecting horses of lower market value from being shipped untraceably between countries.

The new proposals would mean that only registered racehorses and FEI-approved competition horses would be allowed to travel between these countries without a formal veterinary inspection. The rules would only apply between France and the UK and Ireland and France due to the UK and Ireland’s shared health status.

Movement of horses from Ireland does not represent a threat to the health of horses already resident in the UK. The TPA was set up in the 1970s by veterinary officers in Ireland, France and the UK to allow thoroughbreds to travel between countries without a formal vet inspection.

In 2005 the agreement was expanded to allow free movement of all horses except those destined for slaughter.

Since then vets have advised that the disease risk to the UK’s equine population has increased. Defra published a risk assessment into the possibility that equine disease could enter the UK from the continent through movements under the TPA. It concluded that there is currently a low but unacceptable risk to equine health in the UK.

Over the past year, Defra has been working closely with representatives of the equine sector and with devolved Scottish, Welsh and Northern Ireland administrations to consider whether the TPA should be strengthened.

The Equine Sector Council for the UK assisted Defra by developing a proposal for possible changes to the TPA. This proposal has formed the basis of discussions with Ireland and France and seeks to limit the TPA to horses with the highest health status. All horse movements outside the scope of a new TPA would need to comply with normal EU trade rules and have an EU health certificate.

The proposals are being considered by Britain, France and Ireland’s chief veterinary officers and if accepted Defra expects that a revised TPA would operate from January 2014.