By Chris Gould/CWHBA

Canada's national equestrian federation, Equestrian Canada Équestre (EC) recently announced an initiative to create a central identification and traceability system for Canadian horses. This is not the first time that EC has attempted to unify horse identification in Canada.

In the late 1990s when livestock identification and traceability was first mandated by the federal government to mitigate the risk of foreign animal disease outbreaks, horses were included along with cattle, sheep, swine, goats, and poultry. A cattle traceability system was developed with the understanding that it would be adapted to other species over time. After several years of participating in the consultations, even to the point of initiating a tender process for an equine ID database, EC was informed that equidae were being dropped from the mandatory species list and that no further funds would be available for the development of the system.

Unique Equine Life Number

Many people in the horse industry have long recognized the need for and value of unique and verifiable identification for horses. As early as the mid 1990s the Canadian Equestrian Federation, forerunner to Equestrian Canada, formed a committee to investigate and develop such a system. Internationally the WBFSH initiated the Universal Equine Identification Number (UELN) in response to the need for international traceability of horses. Of all the species of domestic animals, horses, with their extended lifetime, multiplicity of uses, and global spread, probably move more than any other and are, therefore, at greater risk of spreading disease. The UELN has been incorporated into the health control measures put in place in Europe where national traceability databases have been mandated for some time.
There is little push back from the horse community because identification and record keeping is an integral part of the industry through sport and breeding. What is of concern, however, is the issue of duplication. Breeders in particular want to make sure that the original identification of horses and the trail of ownership is not lost and that new identification records are not created. For that reason it is essential that the breed studbook is the first place a horse is recorded and given its UELN. The studbook is then the root source for horse identification going into any information system, whether it is for sport or health.
The proposal from EC recognizes that fundamental concept and envisages close cooperation with Canadian studbooks. Although the system is voluntary, it is designed to comply with all the requirements for traceability as set out for other species. EC is working closely with the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) in this regard having received approval to use the Canada ISO code microchips.

What goes around, comes around

Much has changed in the past 20 years since the concept was first raised. The EU countries have implemented systems, microchipping technology has advanced and is widespread and the global dimension of the industry has extended to the need to be able to trace genetic material. Unfortunately, Canada is still waiting to join the international community with its own national system. Where Canada was once leading, it is now among the last to join.
The plan, which may be accessed through the EC web site, is comprehensive and ambitious. Its implementation is a logical progression involving agreements with studbooks, microchip manufacturers and database providers to create an information sharing platform. Key to its success is sustained support from the Canadian government. It is absolutely crucial that this time around the government stays at the table to ensure this vital component is in place for the long term development of the Canadian horse. n
Direct page links to Equestrian Canada Équestre ‘Identification Program’: www.equestrian.ca
And, Canadian Thoroughbred Horse Society, ‘microchipping resources’ page: https://www.cthsnational.com/microchipping
Editor’s note: Around the size of a grain of rice, microchips contain a unique 15-digit identification number that can be cross-referenced to information for a horse held by any studbook or breed registry, veterinarian, or competition organizer. Microchipping provides a reliable way to verify a horse’s identity and ensure that all information pertaining to a particular individual is accessible throughout its life. Since January 2013, all horses being processed for the first time for registrtion with the FEI, must be microchipped.