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National Horse Register a Step Closer

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The Agriculture Ministers’ Forum (AGMIN) met in Launceston last Friday to progress priority issues affecting the agriculture sector, with horse welfare and the development of a national horse register taking centre stage.

The meeting was chaired by the Australian Government Minister for Agriculture, Drought and Emergency Management, the Hon. David Littleproud MP.

Ministers discussed key issues impacting the agricultural sector, and what governments can do together to build the Agriculture portfolio into a $100 billion industry by 2030.

Horses were centre stage at the meeting, with Ministers agreeing that Queensland will lead the development of Australian Animal Welfare Standards and Guidelines for Livestock at Processing Establishments.

Queensland will also lead a review of the suitability for horses of the existing Australian Animal Welfare Standards and Guidelines for the Land Transport of Livestock subsequent to completion of coordinated action on horse welfare during transport, as agreed by agriculture senior officials on 19 December 2019.

Ministers also agreed that a working group, co-led by Queensland and Victoria, will develop a proposal for a national horse register, a project that has received strong support from all corners of the horse industry.

Currently, there is no accurate figure for the total horse population in Australia. Estimates range between 900,000 and 1.8 million, which includes domesticated horses and brumbies. A 2001 study suggested that the total horse population was 1.2 million,6 and a more recent but limited 2016 survey found that there were one million or more domesticated horses, with Thoroughbreds representing approximately 10% of the domesticated horse population.

A national register would provide a much clearer picture of Australia’s horse population and its benefits were highlighted in a Senate Inquiry chaired by Greens Senator Mehreen Faruqi.

Animal welfare, biosecurity safety (including the prevention and management of Emergency Animal Diseases, such as equine influenza and African horse sickness), backyard breeding and the integrity of trade in horses were some of the aspects that would benefit from a single database covering the whole country.

The importance of a database that covers horses from birth to death was magnified in the documentary by the national Australian broadcaster into the treatment of retired racehorses.

The report exposed the gaps in accountability and information that occur when horses move out of a racing environment and lose the protection of any registry. The idea of a national horse register gained the support of all racing bodies, veterinary groups and many other horse welfare advocates.

Federal support for the development of the horse registry is a crucial step forward to ensuring a coordinated approach. The working group will be able to contrast the variety of overseas models of national horse tracking systems, as well as funding and enforcement models.

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