A letter from the Veterinary Schools Council to the Chancellor of the Exchequer regarding proposals in the 2014 autumn statement and equine research.
Dear Mr Osborne
Autumn Statement – introduction of a racing right
The Veterinary Schools Council (VSC) represents the interests of seven UK veterinary schools. The VSC’s mission is to advocate, challenge and develop excellence in veterinary education, research and clinical service for the benefit of animal health and society.
The VSC is writing to you in relation to the announcement in the autumn statement that the government will consult on the future of the horserace betting levy in early 2015. Whilst the VSC has no strong view on the way in which revenue is raised from horseracing and betting we would like to draw your attention to the important role that the current system plays in funding equine research.
The current legislation includes a statutory requirement to collect a levy “…for the improvement of Horseracing and breeds of horses and the advancement of veterinary education”
The proposed new consultation will look at scrapping the levy and replacing it with a racing right model. It is crucial that any new system put in place continues to require that the racing industry continues to fund research to support the welfare of horses. The current system has distributed some £47 million of funding for equine veterinary science and education over the last 50 years. Rights-based models, similar to the one proposed, exist in France where equine research is all but non-existent and the standard of equine practice falls far behind that of the UK.
In Britain in 2013 there were 10,146 races with 90,836 runners at 58 racecourses. Combined with an ever increasing number of horses travelling internationally to race, there is enormous potential for large scale transmission of infectious diseases in the racehorse population. Protecting the health of the UK racehorse population is essential to safeguarding both the welfare of the horses and the day-to-day running of the racing industry. This is why the current system provides funding for the monitoring and prevention of infectious diseases in the equine population.
Research has shown that the level of care and quality of life of the 20,000 plus horses in training in the UK is among the highest for any domesticated animal. Over the last 15 years the equine fatality rate in British racing has fallen to just 0.2% of all runners; we believe that low fatality and injury rates reflect the impact of epidemiological research programmes that has been funded by the current system. Both of these issues are considered major factors in the enduring appeal and popularity of the sport and are therefore key reasons for its economic success. Currently the racing industry generates approximately £3.45 billion to the UK economy a year and is responsible for employing directly or indirectly 85,200 people.
Research into issues affecting horses can also benefits human health. For example research funded in part by the current levy system and undertaken by the RVC into treating tendon injuries in horses has produced positive results. There is scope for the findings of this research to be applied to humans. This has the potential to make a huge difference to the health service: ‘tendon disorders are a major direct and indirect financial burden on the NHS with more than 85,000 patients presenting to GPs each year with symptomatic Achilles tendinopathy.’
In conclusion VSC would like to stress the importance of veterinary research to the effective running of the horseracing industry and encourage that any changes to the current levy system continue to include a requirement that the industry support research that benefits the health and wellbeing of horses.
Professor Gary England
Dean of School, School of Veterinary Medicine and Science, Nottingham University, and Chair of the Veterinary Schools Council
CC. The Rt Hon Ed Balls MP, Shadow Chancellor
The Rt Hon Vince Cable MP, Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills