14 Jun 2010

EU Veterinary Week Conference



Director Generals,

Distinguished Representatives and Experts of the Member States of the European Union,

Representatives of third countries,

It is a true honour to stand here in my role as President of the International Equestrian Federation, the FEI, and to be able to address such an eminent group on matters so close to the heart of the family I represent in the horsesport community.

You may wonder about the relevance of an international sport's governing body at a conference on identification and traceability along the food chain, but as Commissioner Dalli said in his opening address, traceability goes far beyond animal health and food safety and we need to look at it from different angles. And this is where the FEI comes in.

We want to work alongside the EU to create a clear distinction between the sport horse as an equine athlete and livestock that is part of the food chain. Identification and traceability are obviously vital in the food chain, but they are also of huge importance to the FEI's equine athletes, helping ensure that the risk of disease-spread is minimised during the cross-border transportation of our competition horses.

Identification and traceability are key factors to solving the quarantine problem and transport issues, particularly with regard to developing countries, on a global scale.

The FEI remains fully committed to its welfare mandate towards the horse and its partnership with human athletes that form its identity in the Olympic Family. That identity, and that mandate is a history of European sport evolution, and our mandate is an ethical code born and nurtured in Europe. Our future is the exportation and transfer of that knowledge to the rest of the world.

In real terms, as an industry horsesport has a very real impact on its habitat. In the European Union we have:

  • an estimated at least 30 billion Euro turnover that, depending on the member state, creates one job per 4-10 animals within it,
  • has the ability by single events alone to create an impact on local economies of tens of millions of Euro,
  • and an industry that uniquely must have the most frequently moved of all the domesticated animal species within the community.

The theme of your conference, “Identification and Traceability” is of paramount importance to all the members of the FEI and was identified four years ago as probably the only issue whose solution could project our sport onto the next stage of its global transformation. If you were to speak to our athletes, our organisers, our member federations; you would see clearly that one of the topics that unifies us beyond any other is not only the necessity, but the urgency of implementing a system that embraces identification and traceability.

Sport, any sport, ceases to have the support of the public if it does not have their confidence in that sport's integrity and transparency - many call that having “fair play”.

Equestrian sport is unique in that it involves a second athlete, the horse, and integrity and transparency in all matters relating to the horse is essential.

Most sports involving horses recognised some time ago the need for very clear identification documents. This helps ensure that the horse presented to compete or to race, is indeed the one it is supposed to be, and in turn that gives confidence not only to all those involved in the sport, but to the breeding and sales industries that seek to provide for the future.

The FEI was one of the first organisations to provide horse passports on a global scale and it also contributed to the establishment of an identification system of Unique Equine Life Numbers - UELNs - for horses.

So as an industry and as an organisation, we completely support the EU requirement for the now compulsory passports of all equines within the community and the introduction of mandatory microchipping. The use of equine microchipping is something that the FEI would like to see on a global scale and we are investigating ways to make that happen. In the past, the equine industry has been criticised from a regulatory perspective because it is clearly not easy to put numbered tags into horses' ears - but with widespread microchipping we are going to be able to go so much beyond that, being able to not only identify horses and trace movements, but also link microchips to data on the horse's entire history.

We know that the ability to move horses across borders easily and with confidence is essential to what we do. We are fully aligned with the objectives of the OIE outlined by Dr Vallat, and are very aware that the movement of animals must take place safe from disease and welfare risks and that any such movements must also take place in a manner that reinforces the confidence of all in the safety of the system.

Like everyone, our industry would suffer greatly if disease outbreaks restricted its normal business. Hence as an organisation we record which events a particular horse attends, and have over 1,000 FEI Veterinary Officials working at events worldwide to ensure our rules on vaccination requirements, freedom from disease and fitness to compete - are followed. Within Europe the FEI has a comprehensive system in place to take samples from horses to prevent doping and medication infringements. Samples are simply tested with an allocated number, and only when the results are known, is that number reconciled with the identity of the horse and competitor. This internal system gives confidence in our sport, not just for the public, but importantly for those who compete and those who must bear the consequences if there is a positive test result.

While there is an ongoing debate about the in-competition use of Non-Steroidal Anti-Inflammatory Drugs, we have a system in place which carefully monitors all medication issues. Under import and export regulations, our horses have to be signed out of the food chain and our rules require that all medications administered must be recorded.

We take a share of the responsibility to protect our valuable horses and sport - not only because it protects the welfare of the horses and our values, but because we also know that we cannot take risks with the hopes and plans of those who chose to work within the industry.

Therefore we support the EU health requirements and recording of movements, both within the EU, and into the EU from third countries.

Traceability and identification sit at the centre of preventing or limiting the spread of all diseases. Our support is not just limited to the movement of equines, but also for the measures to prevent the spread of many animal diseases. Who can forget the terrible effect of the 2001 Foot and Mouth outbreak on all EU industries associated with animals.

The Commission seeks to apply proportional and risk assessed measures. There can only be proportionality due to having systems of traceability in the first place. As a member of the International Olympic Committee I believe in providing a level playing field for all, and I wish therefore that the reasoned proportional approach taken by the EU was adopted by many of the countries horses travel to when competing outside the EU. A recent survey of the 133 member countries of the FEI showed that, outside of the EU, the greatest difficulty faced by them are disproportionate and inconsistent importation requirements.

The measures that are the theme of this conference may not always be popular, but when you take them as a whole and integrate them with the “quality assurance” measures that can, and have, been taken by industries themselves - as I have outlined - the synergy referred to by Commissioner Dalli earlier is very clear.

I do believe, that if I as an individual can add any value to your conference, it is to ask that you consider all the ways that you can help my community to transfer the knowledge and the values of the EU, in all the areas, and all the sectors represented in your forum, to a broader landscape.

The Olympic Games in Beijing represented a new birth and new gateway to the FEI as far as regional development is concerned. International horse movement in the Asian Region has increased rapidly since then and it will continue to grow at the pace that Asia does everything - far faster than we may be comfortable with. And the FEI World Equestrian Games will be held this year in Kentucky USA - the first time ever outside of the EU. The last World Equestrian Games were held in Aachen in 2006, not too far from here. The next will be held in Normandy in 2014.

In Aachen the benefit to the local economy during the 2 weeks of the Games was 60 million Euro, and there was a worldwide TV audience of over 400 million. Nearly 800 horses from 5 continents represented over 50 countries and the Games were covered by 1,000s of journalists.

None of that would ever have been possible if there was not a belief in the integrity of the sport, if there was not faith in the identity of the horses participating, if they did not have traceable travel and vaccination histories, if they did not have certified veterinary health certificates and disease testing , if the dope testing systems were not seen as fair and traceable and if the public and all those participating did not have confidence in the system.

When all of these factors come together - “identification“ and “traceability” which seem at first dry and maybe just processes to be followed - are actually the essential link that connects the work done by the EU Commission and the common goal that the FEI has a responsibility to strive for.

Thank you and I wish you every success for your conference this week.