Monday, February 28, 2005

They eat domestic solipeds, don’t they?

Eurospeak for "horses", just in case you were wondering, and from today it becomes law of the land that every horse should be the proud owner of a passport, courtesy of our government-over-the-water in Brussels.

To mark this occasion, the Daily Telegraph runs a piece in today’s edition, pointing out the penalty for disobeying the diktats of our masters, with the headline: "Horse owners face jail over passports".

I suppose, to be fair, it should be the horses that are jailed, but there you go. It is, according to the Telegraph, the "thousands of horse, pony and donkey owners" who "face fines or even jail from today because they have failed to obtain passports for their animals." With the passage of the new law, it seems only about 500,000 of an estimated total of a million equines have been registered.

The reason for this delicious piece of nonsense – to use an unfortunate phrase – is that the EU wants to keep track of medication administered to horses in case they subsequently end up in the food chain, in pursuit of which end owner have to apply for passports for their animals on pain of a maximum fine of £5,000 or jail in the case of repeat offenders.

Although relatively modest in price, costing between £20 and £30, owners also have to pay a veterinary surgeon or other qualified person to fill in a silhouette identifying the markings of their animal – fingerprints being of limited value - pushing the bill to £70 or more.

And so unpopular is the scheme that the government has already extended its deadline twice: it was first due to come into force in January last year, before being put back to June 30. However, with only a small proportion of equines covered by that date, the deadline was extended again to today.

According to the Telegraph, critics of the scheme say, with that the government should have derogated from the EU law, as previous administrations had done, on the grounds that few British horses - about 7,000 a year - enter the food chain.

But the egregious Alun Michael, minister for rural affairs, has warned that his masters in Brussels will exact a terrible revenge if they are not obeyed. They are threatening to withdraw approval for around 60 per cent of UK veterinary medicines if the EU commission is "unhappy" with the level of compliance.

Trying to steer a course between irate horse owners – to day nothing of the donkey owners – and those in Brussels who must be obeyed, the Department for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) is saying that enforcement will be carried out in "a common sense and gradual way". To begin with, only owners presenting their horses for export, attending shows or requiring medicines for their animals would be required to show a passport.

This is a classic Defra tactic, which has nothing to do with "common sense". It will wait until the immediate publicity has died down and then pick on a few individuals, pour encourages les autres. By this means, it will gradually tighten its grip on the whole equine-owning community until all but a hardy few have complied.

Thus are our masters in Brussels to be assuaged - and all because they eat domestic solipeds.

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