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Tightening up on pet travel

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IT is perhaps unfortunate that Defra, along with the Welsh and Scottish governments, should have launched a consultation on changes to the pet travel rules in August, when many people (including pet owners travelling abroad with their animals) are likely to be on holiday. Nevertheless, the changes discussed in their consultation, which was launched this week,1 are important, and could help address some of the concerns that have arisen since Britain's pet travel rules were brought in line with those applying in the rest of the EU in January 2012. The changes are intended to implement a new EU pet travel regulation which was published in June 2013 and is due to come into force at the end of this year. Although the main elements of the pet travel regime will remain the same, there are some significant changes to the detail that will affect both veterinarians and pet owners. The aim, Defra explains, is ‘to strengthen compliance regimes, create greater consistency across the EU and improve the security and traceability of the pet passport’.

The measures set out and discussed in the consultation document include changes to pet passports, with a view to making them more secure; changes to veterinary record keeping, to improve traceability and assist pet owners in the event of passports being lost or damaged; and arrangements for microchipping. Other matters discussed include limits on the number of animals allowed to travel, requirements for owners to accompany their pets, arrangements for pets to go straight into quarantine, and a new minimum of 12 weeks of age before pets can be vaccinated against rabies.

A number of these changes are clearly intended to address concerns about some of the ‘unintended consequences’ of the changes to Britain's pet travel rules in 2012, including concerns that some people might be exploiting the rules, aimed at making it easier for people to travel with their pets, to trade in animals commercially (VR, April 5, 2014, vol 174, p 336). These and other issues relating to the rule changes in 2012 were aired at the BVA Congress last November (VR, November 30, 2013, vol 173, pp 508, 509-511), as well as at the BSAVA congress in April (VR, April 19, 2014, vol 174, pp 394-395). As is so often the case when legislation is changed, much will depend not just on the rules themselves but how effectively they are applied and enforced – in this case, not just in the UK, but also in other countries that issue pet passports.

The changes being made and the rationale behind them are clearly set out in an ‘Information for pet owners’ document2 that was published by Defra and the Scottish and Welsh governments last week, along with the consultation document. Meanwhile, more information about the background to the changes and to the pet travel regime in general is available through a recent webinar involving the BVA President and the policy lead for pet travel at Defra, which is available online.3

The new pet passport, the consultation document explains, will include laminated strips to cover those pages with microchip information and any treatment certified with a sticker, and have a unique passport number printed on each page. The vet who issues the passport will have to provide full contact details on a page provided for this, and a new ‘valid from’ date will have to be included for all rabies vaccinations (excluding boosters).

Regarding record keeping, vets issuing passports will be expected to keep, for at least three years, details of: the pet passport number; the microchip number, location and date of reading/application; the name, species, breed, sex, colour, date of birth and any notable or discernible features or characteristics of the pet; and the owner's name and contact information. Official Veterinarians not keeping the required records might be asked to undertake refresher training or, as a last resort, have their authorisation to issue pet passports removed.

As far as microchipping is concerned, it is proposed that non-veterinarians, as well as vets, will be allowed to implant microchips; these will be registered veterinary nurses acting under the direction of a vet, people who have previously been trained or assessed on a course with a practical element, or people who have been on a government-approved training course. This approach, the consultation document says, will align with forthcoming legislation requiring all dogs in England and Wales to be microchipped, which will also lay down the training and assessment requirements.

Defra and the Scottish and Welsh governments have asked for comments on the proposed changes by September 14. Explaining the relatively short consultation period, they note that the fundamentals of the pet travel scheme will remain unchanged, that the UK was fully involved in the negotiations for the new EU regulation, that they have already held informal discussions with a range of stakeholders, and that the short consultation period will enable them to meet the tight deadline for implementing the EU legislation. Despite this, it would seem important to take the consultation seriously. Measures aimed at solving unintended consequences can have unintended consequences of their own, and it is usually better to try to identify what these might be before legislation is introduced rather than find out later.

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