Thursday, November 03, 2005

And now for something completely different

The last place you would think of to find yet another example of the effects of an utterly absurd and crass EU regulation might be the sports section of The Daily Telegraph but, today, it provides us with just such an example.

This is the tragi-comedy of attempt to bury the three-time Cheltenham Gold Cup winner, Best Mate, on top of Haldon Hill, where he died two days ago after a suspected heart attack during a race.

What was a noble gesture, for a fine horse that had captured the imagination of many fans, became entangled in red tape when trading standards officers from Devon County Council refused a request from Exeter Racecourse to bury the steeplechaser near the spot where he died.

This means, says the Telegraph, that, unlike most great racehorses before him, who have all been buried at studs, stables, in their paddocks or, in Red Rum's case - by Aintree's winning post - at the scene of their greatest triumph, he will now have to be cremated.

This, as everyone knows, it not actually true because Best Mate could have been disposed of as waste by burial in a landfill approved under Directive 1999/31/EC, this being one of the options provided for by the 108-page EU Animal By-Products Regulation 1774/2002, which came into force on 1 October 2003.

Of course, there is an exemption under the regulations for pets and, according to the Telegraph narrative, officials at Exeter sought permission to respect owner Jim Lewis's wish to bury the great steeplechaser near the spot where he died.

This descended into farce as one government agency after another passed the buck and eventually, after the Environment Agency and DEFRA had had a crack at whether or not burying Best Mate would be “legal”, the question ended up with Devon County Council's TSOs in Exeter.

They had to decide on whether, as a racehorse, Best Mate was defined as a “pet” or "commercial animal." Though the definition of a "pet" is an "animal nurtured by humans but not normally eaten" – something, says the Telegraph, you'd imagine described Best Mate fairly accurately - because we are dealing with EU law, it "must" be interpreted in a "European context". As horses are eaten on the continent the Europeans would regard a racehorse as a commercial animal.

Said Roger Rivett, head of Trading Standards, said: "Since foot and mouth and BSE it has been illegal to bury any fallen stock. They must be disposed of in approved ways. We were not trying to be obstructive, just interpreting the law. We've suggested he be incinerated and his ashes buried. After all 50 percent of humans are cremated these days."

When asked what possible harm there could be in burying such a famous horse 10ft underground, miles from anywhere on top of Haldon Hill, Rivett pointed out the dangers of disease possibly being spread by carrion or seeping into a watercourse. "We're here to enforce the law, not bend it," he concluded. Exeter, it would seem, is plagued by crows with spades.

A day of wrangling with civil servants was just what Best Mate's owner, Jim Lewis, did not need, added the paper. "I understand they had to close various gaps in the law after foot and mouth," Lewis said, "but horses don't get or carry it. It's political correctness gone mad but we'll have to abide by their decision. Ideally I wanted him to be buried today but, to be honest, it's been another torrid day."

However, as anyone will be quick to tell our Jim, the law is the law and must be obeyed. So, denied the opportunity to bury him, Exeter are looking at some sort of permanent memorial. At Cheltenham a statue of Best Mate is likely to be on the agenda at their next board meeting. A suitable race will also be named after Best Mate.

One thing for sure, though, Jim Lewis will not be putting down the EU as his "best mate". I wonder whether the fragrant one will mention it on her blog.


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