Branding of Livestock

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Article 8 (Performing procedures on animals) of the Animal Protection Act states:

(1) A person shall not partially our completely amputate specific sensitive parts of an animal's body nor shall they remove or destroy parts of organs, tissues or complete organs or tissues, including:
1. marking animals against special regulations

Proposal of the Association

Article 8
(1) A person shall not partially our completely amputate specific sensitive parts of an animal's body nor shall they remove or destroy parts of organs, tissues or complete organs or tissues, including:
1. marking equidae and livestock by branding and other types of marking animals against special regulations

Explanation: In Croatia marking equidae with a microchip has been prescribed since 2009, but hot-iron branding has still remained legal, although it is an unreliable, unnecessary, obsolete and inhumane way of marking animals and establishing property rights. Also, although livestock is being earmarked, bulls are exempt from this provision, if intended for participation in cultural or sport events, where, apart from earmarks, they are to be marked with a branding iron as well. There is no medical or scientific justification for this provision, while it severely affects the animal's welfare.

Hot-iron branding is done without administering analgetics or anesthesia and is causing animals great pain and suffering not only during the branding procedure, but also in the following days. The hot brand is pressed upon the skin for about 5 seconds, exposing the skin to enormous heat. Depending on the skill of the person performing the branding, there is a danger of fire uncontrollably spreading from the hot brand to the rest of the animal's hair. The branded animal's body temperature elevates for 4 °C on the day of the procedure, and it remains elevated between 2 to 4 °C for the next 6 days. Thus, animal suffers pain and increased body temperature for at least a week after the branding. The branded part of the body has lesions typical for third-degree body burns with necrotized meat. After the branding, there may be an infection, while wounds heal with difficulty.

Research shows that even if branding were to be done with an anesthesia, after the procedure, the animal would still need to receive analgetics and antipyretics for a whole week. There would also be a danger of impressing the hot brand longer, due to the fact that the animal is under anesthesia and thus not reacting, causing the animal even more serious burns.

Due to the painfulness of the process as well as the medical consequences for the animal, hot-iron branding of all other types of animals has been prohibited in the UK, and hot-iron branding of horses has been prohibited in Denmark, the Netherlands, Sweden, Austria, Scotland and Northern Ireland. Other members of the EU are also discussing banning this unnecessary and very painful procedure. Also, many professional and other organizations and institutions are calling for a ban on hot-iron branding, such as: British Veterinary Association, British Equine Veterinary Association, RSPCA, The British Horse Society, The Blue Cross, Animal Aid…

These types of brands are not an adequate way of marking property, especially with horses, which can live more than thirty years and change several owners during their life. By change in ownership, the data on the microchip can also be changed, which does not apply for the brand on the animal's skin. Also, one of the flaws of the procedure is that the brand cannot be read very well after thick winter hair covers the skin, and the deliberate causing of pain to the animals for purposes not part of a veterinary procedure in the interest of the animal's welfare, are unacceptable. There is no point in using methods causing animals great pain, and which are unnecessary due to other, modern procedures for marking animals.

Article 18 of the Rule-book on identification and registration of equinae (OG 123/09) prescribes that marking equinae entails "mandatory marking which includes implantation of the transponder and an identification chart" and "additional marking including physical marking with a hot-iron brand". Methods such as hot-iron branding, freeze branding and tattooing are considered alternative methods of marking and we find them superfluous. Application of microchips as a method of marking has been used in the world since the beginning of the 1980s. It has proven to be a safe, practical and a lasting method of marking, being also the most acceptable from the perspective of animal's welfare, as well as it enables clear identification and a lifelong tracking of the animal, at the same time including all the information on the animal. Therefore, all breeds, i.e. equinae in Croatia, including Lipizzan and similar breeds, where hot-iron branding is still the main marking method, should be marked only with an ID chart and the implantation of microchips. Additional marking using a hot-iron brand is unacceptable and Croatia needs to implement a approach that is modern and as less invasive as possible, while the same should apply for livestock which has already been earmarked.

Although, from a perspective grounded in animal welfare, hot-iron branding is more painful for the animals, we believe that freeze branding using liquid nitrogen, or dry ice with 99% alcohol, when the freeze brand is kept impressed upon the animal's skin for 10-30 seconds, should also be made illegal.

In a letter from the Department of Agriculture and Food Industry, which we had an opportunity to read, it is claimed that there are cases where the transponder moved from the place of application and thus stopped working. For these individual cases there is an ID chart of the horse, and besides, it is prescribed that the horses need to have a blood test each year (for a test on equine infectious anemia) so this is the moment when the transponder may be checked.

We also point out that the Act prescribes mandatory marking of dogs with microchips, and while in these instances there are also cases of moving the transponder, this does not constitute a reason for e.g. extra marking the whole species using a procedure that is painful.

Numerous veterinary associations around the world are against hot-iron branding, so we believe that the veterinary professionals in Croatia also agree on the psycho-physical consequences of the branding on horses' welfare and the proposition that this type of marking should be made illegal.

Taking into account the thoughts and objections noted on the meetings of the Committee for Amendments of the Animal Protection Act, we have ourselves contacted certain horse breeders which brand their horses, although this is not mandatory according to the breeding record book (borike Arabian horse). They advocate hot-iron branding for esthetic reasons, "so you can immediately notice which breed it is". They agree that if branding is not done professionally and if the horse does not receive appropriate care after the branding (wound treatment), there can be serious complications and the horse suffers greatly.

What is important is that they agree that identifying a horse without branding would not be a problem (since horses need to be marked with a transponder in any case), and they have also mentioned the DNA analysis method (using the hair from the horse's mane) which is 100% accurate, but expensive. As an example they have stated the purebred Arabian horses from the United Arab Emirates, which are being identified both using a transponder and a DNA analysis; branding is not required, but many tribes still use freeze branding. They agree that the identification of horses is reliable without hot-iron branding and are ready to abandon this method if branding were made illegal for all horses – i.e. when other breeds would also be prohibited from being marked with a brand.

We also stress the fact that microchip tagging is administered much earlier than branding. Branding is done only after the first 1.5 years of age (otherwise, the brand is deformed due to the horse's growth), while micro-chipping can be administered before the horse reaches its first year of age.
Branding is a relic and not that its ban would cause any problems, but the "horse experts" would have to invest a little bit more effort into identifying the features of the breed (if that is important for them) because they could not rely solely on recognizing the brand as a mark of the breed (a Lipizzan would remain a Lipizzan, just that it would not be inscribed on its leg).

Regarding the remark of the Committee members that the lack of the brand might cause problems with identifying the horse in hypothetical situations where two or more "owners" would claim the same horse as their own, we believe that the transponder would serve as a quite reliable method of identification together with ID charts and photos of the horse (photodocumentation). In such extremely rare hypothetical situations mentioned on the meeting, that two horses with different owners found themselves on a same meadow, they can temporarily be marked with ribbons of different colors etc. These kinds of exceptional situations cannot serve as an excuse for preserving branding as an any kind of, be it additional or not, procedure of marking a horse.

As to the reply of the State Stud Farm in Đakovo, we wish to point out the following:

Marking a horse with a hot-iron brand as an additional method of marking has no medical, ethical, economical or any other justification. Marking the animals as a "kind of a market brand" is in the State Stud Farm's reply presented as a matter of esthetics, which is unacceptable from the point of view of the animal's welfare. Also, hot brand is not "a proof of quality of the marked individual", but is a scar made by deliberate damaging of the tissue. This point is especially unacceptable in the light of the fact that the director of a state stud farm cares more for branding than for the psycho-physical health of the individual.

With regards to the opinion of the stud farm that certain breeds of horses roam freely on the meadows and are not socialized so they could be approached safely, there are methods of identification for free wild animals. At the same time no one dares to think to, for the same reasons, identify bears by branding. According to the Article 132, pg. 3 of the Act on Ownership and Other real Rights ''it is deemed that a tamed animal is no one's if it goes missing on its own for forty-two days'', and with regards to the fact that branding for additional marking is the owner's responsibility (according to the Rule-book on identification and registration of equinae), are horses that roam freely actually no one's property? Who will take care of the treatment of the wound after the branding? If these are wild horses, then the identification should be made in the same manner as with other wild animals – without branding.

For as much as they try to justify the act of branding and make it look prettier, it is still about deliberately causing severe burns. Comparing the stress which the horse experiences during branding with the one by inserting the transponder is unjustified because the branding leaves a wound which is yet to heal. Thus it seriously concerns us that the director of a state stud farm replies that "the rise in body temperature of the animal after the branding has not yet been established". This shows that even the state stud farm does not record the medical condition of the animal after the branding so it can be assumed that it is even less so with private horse owners. This letter makes it obvious that horses in the stud farm do not receive any painkillers since director Korabi is not familiar with the fact that after the branding the animal has elevated body temperature and that this hurts the animal, although he is supposed to.

In the research which we were referred to by a Committee member it is stated: ''Branding caused a necrotising skin burn lasting at least 7 days. Moreover branding, but not microchip implantation (P < 0.001), was accompanied by a generalized increase in skin temperature which was comparable to low degree post-burn hypermetabolism in humans.'' We feel it is important that Mr. Nidal Korabi familiarizes with these information, which was unknown to him until now.

Furthermore, we draw attention to a research which concludes: "Hot iron branding elicited a significantly stronger aversive reaction indicative of pain than did microchip transponder injection (odds ratio [OR], 12.83). Allodynia quantified by means of skin sensitivity to von Frey monofilaments was significantly greater after hot iron branding than after microchip transponder injection (OR, 2.59)… The hot iron branding areas had significantly increased skin temperature and swelling (OR, 14.6)… Microchip transponder injection induced less signs of pain and inflammation and did not seem to pose a higher long-term risk than hot iron branding. Consequently, results indicated that hot iron branding does inflict more pain and should be abandoned where possible. (Am J Vet Res 2009;70:840–847).''

Also, another useful research on the legibility of brands published in 2013, concludes: "Despite the fact that hot iron branding caused lesions compatible with third degree thermal injury, it did not allow unambiguous identification of a large proportion of older horses. While the breed-specific symbol was consistently identified by three independent investigators in 84% of the horses, the double-digit branding number was read correctly by all three investigators in less than 40%. In conclusion, hot iron branding in horses causes lesions compatible with third degree thermal injury but does not always allow identification of horses."

Quotes from the same research, but another source, state: "'Branding is clearly associated with local tissue damage and the markings are often insufficiently clear to be decoded, even by experienced observers or after the horse has died,' Jörg Aurich further said. 'There really isn't any reason to continue to mark horses in this outdated way.'"

In an opinion on the ban of hot-iron branding addressed to the Scottish Government, the British Horse Society together with the British Veterinary Association and the British Equine Veterinary Association state: ''The British Veterinary Association has been unequivocal in its stance on hot branding with the British Equine Veterinary Association also speaking out to decry the practice. The BHS recognises the value of professional veterinary opinion on this issue and is pleased to align itself with the BVA and BEVA." "In summary, the British Horse Society is opposed to the practice of hot branding of equidae and supports the Scottish Government's proposal to cease the issuing of specific authorisations."

Dr. vet. med. Hans-Joachim Götz, the president of the German association of veterinarians 'Bundesverbandes Praktizierender Tierärzte', has commented on the subject during the adoption of the law on banning branding equinae in Germany: "Iron branding is no longer in accordance with the modern standards of horse welfare". We believe that the veterinarians in the Ministry, who understand this area best, will read the whole paper and support the proposition to ban this procedure.

We would also like to point out that the horse marked by branding is being submitted to the stress twice – by marking it with a transponder as well as by branding it, which is completely unnecessary. Branding equinae is incurring injury for estethic reasons, which is a relic from the times when other tagging methods were not in use. At the same time, it does not bear any important identification value, but boils down to estethics and human vanity, so as to "mark" their property so anyone can see it.

Thus, the conclusion is that the implanted transponder and an ID chart make a reliable means of identification in all types of situations (normal and extraordinary).

We would like to mention once more that branding is a painful, obsolete and potentially dangerous practice for the risk of medical complications for the horse, which was adopted at a time when micro-chipping did not exist. As a means of identification, branding is not immune to abuse and malversations with the documents for identification, thus, it does not prevent "identity theft".

From all of the mentioned, we conclude that implanting transponders together with the horse's ID chart present a method which does not have serious objections, while it has been a routine practice among the breeders and the owners of crossbreds and horses without registration. On the other hand, branding has more value among the breeders as a procedure for marking the breed of a horse, than as a method of identification (they need to be micro-chipped anyways), which is not an argument for keeping up with this painful and unnecessary practice.

All of the arguments in favor of banning branding of equinae attest to the need that the proposed ban enables adequate protection of the horses, at the same time not violating in any way marking of the equinae prescribed by the law.

Branding causes pain to the animal, and since transponder implant and ID charts, as well as earmarks, have long been put in practice, this painful method should be banned.

The proposition of the Association for this amendment to the Animal Protection Act was submitted in 2015/2016.

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