Referral of the inquiry
On 12 February 2019, the Senate referred the following matters to the Rural and Regional Affairs and Transport References Committee (the committee) for inquiry and report by 19 August 2019:
The feasibility of a National Horse Traceability Register for all horses, with particular reference to:
the existence and adequacy of state or industry-based registers;
the benefits of a national register, including for animal welfare, biosecurity safety (including for 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;
overseas models of national tracking systems for horses;
funding, enforcement and penalty implications; and
The inquiry lapsed at the end of the 45th Parliament. On 23 July 2019, the Senate agreed to the committee's recommendation that the inquiry be re-adopted in the 46th Parliament.
Conduct of the inquiry
Information about the inquiry was made available on the committee's webpage. The committee wrote to government departments, industry stakeholder groups, community groups and individuals to invite submissions. In total, the committee received 70 submissions. A list of organisations and individuals that made public submissions, together with additional information authorised for publication, is at Appendix 1.
The committee held three public hearings. The first was held in Sydney on 4 September 2019 and the remaining two were in Canberra on
20 September 2019 and 11 November 2019.
A list of witnesses who appeared at the hearings is at Appendix 2. Submissions and Hansard transcripts of evidence may be accessed through the committee's website.
The committee thanks all organisations and individuals who made submissions to the inquiry and appeared before the committee to give evidence.
Note of references
References to Hansard are to the proof transcript. Page numbers may vary between the proof and the official (final) Hansard transcript.
Structure of the report
This report is divided into five chapters. Chapter 1 provides an overview of the horse industry in Australia and the principles of traceability. It briefly discusses previous horse traceability proposals and activities.
Chapter 2 examines existing livestock traceability systems in Australia, and the requirements for registration for horses across Australian jurisdictions and within the horse industry. It discusses the groundwork undertaken prior to the introduction of traceability systems and identifies some issues with regard to accuracy and integrity, which must be considered in any design of a horse traceability system.
Chapter 3 discusses the support for and potential functionality of a traceability system, including its utility to address such issues as biosecurity, animal welfare and rider safety.
Chapter 4 discusses key considerations and challenges pertaining to the design of a horse traceability system in Australia.
Chapter 5 provides the committee's views and recommendations.
Australian horse population
The absence of a compulsory registration regime for horses in Australia means there is no accurate figure for Australia's horse population. Current estimates vary, from between 900,000 to 1.8 million horses. A 2001 study suggested the horse population stood at 1.2 million; whereas a more recent but limited 2016 survey found there were one million or more domesticated horses in Australia. The New South Wales Department of Primary Industries (DPI) informed the committee that in 2018 it was estimated that the state had 97,000 horses, but the DPI considers this figure to be a 'massive underestimation of how many horses there actually are'.
It is unclear how many horses are registered across multiple industry groups, breed societies, and special interest and sporting groups; however, the committee heard:
Equestrian NSW has 8,000 members and 22,000 registered horses (20,000 of which are microchipped);
Equestrian Australia reported that across the equestrian sector there are 59,097 registered horses;
the Australian Horse Industry Council's (AHIC) member groups account for more than 34,000 people and 340,000 registered horses; and
the Australian Stud Book has 1.2 million current and historical records.
It is possible for horses to legitimately be registered with more than one group or studbook, with different details included in each registry. The Western Australian Horse Council estimates that less than half of the Australian horse population is registered with any organisation.
States and territories may have some information on horse numbers obtained through the property identification code registration process (see below), though this information is not centrally held.
Principles of animal traceability
The purpose of an animal traceability scheme is to trace an animal over its lifetime. Depending on the aims of the system, it might also record details on any movement of the animal, the use or purpose of the animal, vaccinations, medications, disease history and laboratory health tests.
Generally, traceability schemes require the following three basic elements:
a unique animal identifier;
a property identifier; and
a central record (database).
Additionally, legal enforcement through relevant legislation and compliance measures (including education) are necessary to support the integrity of any traceability system.
Unique animal identifier
A unique animal identifier allows for the identification of individual animals. In the case of horses, this might be through one or more of the following:
description of the horse with a completed silhouette (diagram of markings); and/or
A property identifier records the location of a property where livestock are either held, sold or sent for sale or slaughter. State and territory agencies issue properties under their jurisdiction with Property Identification Codes (PICs), consisting of eight letters which identify a property spatially.
A PIC does not provide a record for an individual horse, nor does a PIC record the number of horses found on a property or contact information of horse owners because only the landowner is required to be registered for a PIC. The DPI explained:
Whilst around Australia we all require a horse to be identified with a property identification code or awareness that they might be on a property, if you've got 10 horses it doesn't actually identify which horse is which and where they're going to, so that's a real issue.
The use of PICs varies between jurisdictions and organisations. For example, in Victoria it is a requirement that any horse given away or sold on any platform must have an accompanying PIC. In Western Australia, registered livestock (including horses) are allocated a set of registered identifiers including a PIC. The PIC indicates who owns the stock and where they are kept, even if the owner does not own the land. Equestrian NSW requires owners to identify the PIC at which their horse is kept when entering competitions.
The AHIC observed that compliance with PIC requirements is unknown, as is the accuracy of annual reporting. For NSW, the DPI acknowledged variable compliance with PIC requirements across the state, with people outside of prime production areas not necessarily aware of the requirement to have a PIC, and in general terms, property owners have a PIC for other livestock, not just horses.
In terms of a disease outbreak in the absence of a national traceability register, the Department of Agriculture advised the committee that PIC registrations would play a crucial part in identifying properties throughout Australia that contain horses.
A central record allows for traceability, whereby all relevant information about the animal is stored centrally and is potentially accessible in real or near-real time.
A central record makes possible the recording of stock movements, and the identification of the stock with which the animal comes into contact. As a central database, it can allow for the recording of changes in ownership and any other details considered necessary.
It is on this aspect, what is recorded on the central record, that the committee received the majority of submissions. The scope and scale of the information mandated for a central record has significant implications for support for such a record across the horse-owning population, and for compliance. These matters are considered in Chapter 4.
Discussions about horse traceability in Australia
There have been some discussions about horse traceability in Australia including in NSW; through the Agriculture Ministers' Forum; and arising from consultations around the operation of the Emergency Animal Disease Response Agreement (EADRA). Additionally, two parliamentary inquiries have raised matters concerning biosecurity and horse traceability. A horse traceability register was briefly established during the equine influenza outbreak in 2007.
Horse traceability in New South Wales
In 2017, the DPI surveyed the state's horse industry to gauge support for a proposal that all horses in NSW be microchipped, and for the establishment of a simple traceability scheme. The DPI received 2,243 responses: 97 per cent from individuals and 3 per cent from organisations. More than 42,000 horses were under the management of respondents.
The survey found more than 70 per cent of respondents were supportive of mandatory horse identification and a central database. Ninety-one per cent of respondents believed a national database would be appropriate. The survey identified several risks to the successful implementation of a traceability scheme, including: increased red tape; the cost of microchipping; and duplication with other national and international databases.
Agriculture Ministers' Forum
There are ongoing discussions in the Agriculture Ministers' Forum about horse traceability, through its Agriculture Senior Officials Committee. A Jurisdictional Horse Identification and Traceability Working Group (the working group) was established to:
determine the reasons for a horse identification and traceability system;
conduct a cost-benefit analysis of mandatory identification of horses;
consider previous work conducted into the voluntary minimum standards for the microchipping of horses;
determine methods to estimate Australia's horse population;
investigate existing horse registration databases and their use with any future national database; and
consider traceability systems in other international jurisdictions.
The working group comprised of representatives from NSW, Victoria, Queensland, the Northern Territory and Western Australia (observer only). It is scheduled to provide its report into the advantages and disadvantages of horse traceability to the Agriculture Senior Officials Committee by 31 March 2020.
Emergency Animal Disease Response Agreement and Levy
An EADRA is a legally binding arrangement between the Australian, state and territory governments, and industry groups to collectively reduce the risk of disease incursions and manage a response if a disease outbreak occurs. Animal Health Australia (AHA), a not-for-profit public company, oversees the agreement. AHA membership includes the AHIC, Australian Harness Racing, Racing Australia, Equestrian Australia and the Australian Veterinarian Association.
The agreement creates a mechanism to facilitate a response to certain animal diseases. Through the EADRA, governments and livestock industries share the costs associated with responding to a significant animal disease outbreak. The Australian Government can agree to underwrite an industry's share of the response and recover these costs through a statutory industry levy. The rate is decided by industry, in consultation with the Australian Government. When the Australian Government fully recovers its costs, the levy is set back to nil.
An EADRA has been established for the horse industry, under the Horse Disease Response Levy Act 2011. The statutory levy is collected through the sale of horse manufactured feed and worm treatments. The details of the levy and its amount are established by regulation when required.
Impetus for a horse traceability register has come from the industries responsible for the collection of the levy, should it be activated. These stakeholders, such as the Stock Feed Manufacturers' Council of Australia, argue that the horse industry has a biosecurity responsibility to understand the horse population. Through a national database, a levy collection point could be established at the point of registration. It was suggested many horses had moved away from regular six-week deworming schedules to targeted strategic health plans, and some owners may try to avoid the levy by not worming their horses.
In 2016, the then Department of Agriculture and Water Resources undertook a review into the EADRA as it applied to horses. The report acknowledged that it had been a challenge to find a collection method for the levy which was fair, could be applied to the largest possible proportion of horse owners, and had a high number of units.
In 2010, the committee conducted an inquiry into the Animal Horse Industry and an Emergency Animal Disease Response Agreement. Whilst the committee made no recommendations, it indicated support for the compulsory registration of all horses and the establishment of a national register.
Equine influenza inquiry
Following the 2007 outbreak of equine influenza, the then Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry, appointed the Honourable Ian Callinan to conduct an inquiry into the circumstances that contributed to the outbreak of the disease and to consider whether there was a need for strengthened biosecurity measures concerning the importation of horses.
The inquiry made many recommendations with regard to quarantine and biosecurity, but did not recommend the introduction of a horse traceability system.
Horse Emergency Contact Database
In 2006, the AHIC, with state and federal funding, developed the Horse Emergency Contact Database (HECD). This was a voluntary database where horse owners were encouraged to register their contact details, property details, and horse details. Initially the register had 800 registrations.
During the outbreak of equine influenza, registrations rose to 10,000, and the database was a key source of communication for government agencies to horse owners, through the AHIC. However, once the outbreak had subsided, horse owners perceived little reason to continue engagement with the HECD. Further, the AHIC was not able to continue funding its maintenance and promotion once DPI funding of the database ceased.
Alleged mistreatment of horses at an Australian abattoir
On 17 October 2019, the ABC's 7:30 aired its special investigation into the horse racing industry and the treatment of horses at abattoirs and knackeries in Australia.
The investigation revealed horrific footage of horses' treatment at an abattoir in Queensland, and identified a large number of retired racehorses being killed for human consumption. The investigation resulted in renewed calls from across the horse industry, including the racing industry, and animal welfare groups for a national horse traceability register to trace retired racehorses and record the number of horses that are processed through these facilities.
Support for equine traceability
The majority of submissions and witnesses to the inquiry indicated support for a national horse traceability system in Australia. This support was conveyed across various stakeholders that make up the horse industry, including the racing industry, breed societies, veterinarian representatives, horse owners, police, agricultural and farmers' bodies, and the DPI. Despite this support, some submitters raised concerns that a clear purpose for a national traceability register was lacking. Others expressed concern about the duplication of data and costs associated with a national traceability scheme. Submitters also highlighted the importance of effective communication about the scheme, in order for it to be successfully implemented across the country.
All of these matters are considered further in the proceeding chapters of this report.