Until now, the traceability of individual equines in the EU has been hampered by the lack of possibilities to identify them with a single passport that lasts a lifetime and that is linked to a central database.
The failure of the European equine passporting system over the past 20 years has led to overpopulation crises in many countries, and also to irresponsible ownership, illegal trade, food fraud and poor breeding practices. With no traceability, individual animals can disappear from the radar, and the illegal trade is extremely difficult to stamp out. Overbreeding can lead to neglect, and mistreatment due to irresponsible ownership also goes unchecked, as the perpetrators can rarely be held to account without proper traceability.
In addition, animals sold for slaughter are not always properly traced, and with longer supply chains there are higher risks of fraud and potential risks to public health.
However, new rules were agreed in April 2019 which will eventually require all equines in the EU to be identified by a single lifetime passport which will be linked, via a transponder or equivalently robust method, to a central national database. These national databases will in turn be linked together, and will be able to share information on individual equines as needed.
These new rules will improve traceability in theory, however much will depend on how the rules are implemented and enforced. The new system requires all Member States to sign up, put professional mechanisms in place and share information. Some Member States may take more time to do so, or alternative methods to microchipping, such as ear-tagging, may not provide the level of traceability that will be required by the system.
Although the current traceability and identification system does not always provide the competent authorities with comprehensive information regarding the origin and rearing place of the equine, EC Implementing Regulation (EU) 2015/262 strengthened the previous regulation on identification of equines, and Member States are now obliged to have centralised databases to record key information about the identification and ownership. That, together with the new equine identification regulation, which is going to enter into force at the end of April 2021, and proper enforcement, are expected to improve the situation, but only within the EU, as the tracing of equines outside the EU remains a continuous challenge as EC audits themselves indicate.