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IT'S not altogether fashionable these days to call for more legislation from Europe, particularly if you're a politician seeking election in the UK, but a report published by the EU Dog & Cat Alliance last month does just that. The alliance, which includes the BVA among its members, is made up of 45 veterinary and animal welfare organisations from 14 EU member states. Its report – ‘The welfare of dogs and cats involved in commercial practices: a review of the legislation across EU countries’ – looks at the rules in place to protect dogs and cats that are traded commercially in different EU member states and finds them lacking in several respects.1
Surprisingly, perhaps, there is no overarching legislation protecting dogs and cats in the context of commercial practices in the EU, apart from rules on transport and health requirements when animals are moved across borders. Instead, legislation is left to individual member states, with the result that the rules across Europe vary considerably, with strict legislation in some countries and little in others. This, the alliance points out, could have serious consequences, not just for animal welfare, but for animal health, human health, consumer protection and the functioning of the internal market. It argues that, in relation to cross-border activities, the EU has a responsibility to regulate for the welfare of dogs and cats, for the same reasons it has adopted rules to protect other categories of animals, such as farm and laboratory animals.
The extent to which rules vary is certainly highlighted by the report, which summarises the legislation in place in each of the EU's 28 member states in relation to animal identification and registration, breeding, trade, and surgical mutilations. Identification and registration of dogs, for example, is currently compulsory in 19 member states, although this number will rise to 23 in 2016. For cats, only two member states currently impose compulsory identification and registration at national level. Regarding breeding, commercial breeders need to be registered and/or licensed in most member states, but the definition of commercial breeders varies widely, as do the rules they are expected to comply with. Official inspection of breeding establishments is a requirement in only 12 member states, and only eight keep a national database of licensed/registered breeders. Traders of dogs and cats need to be licensed in most member states but, again, licensing requirements differ widely and, the report points out, in some member states trade is not regulated at all. Surgical mutilations are prohibited in most member states but tail docking of dogs is still allowed in four and exemptions allowing tail docking under specific circumstances exist in another nine.
In some ways, the variation within the EU shouldn't be too surprising given the differences that exist in some of these areas even within the UK. However, as the alliance points out, the lack of a system of identification for dogs and cats which is accessible across the EU means that there is little traceability when animals are moved. This, it argues, poses a risk to animal and public health in the event of a disease outbreak and also has consumer protection implications, as purchasers may be unable to find out where their animal has come from. Traceability problems are likely to be exacerbated by differences in legislation relating to trade. Meanwhile, as well as causing animal welfare and behaviour problems, poor standards of breeding may also have consumer protection implications, as purchasers may unexpectedly find themselves having to pay for veterinary care of their pet. Furthermore, the alliance points out, ‘The variation in breeding standards also has an impact on the cost of breeding, resulting in distortion of competition between member states, undermining the functioning of the internal market and presenting a clear incentive for illegal trade.’
Public health, consumer protection and the functioning of the internal market are all matters on which the EU can legislate and the alliance calls on it to introduce legislation that includes: compulsory permanent identification and registration of dogs and cats on an appropriate database, which is linked to an EU database; compulsory licensing of dog and cat breeders, along with harmonised standards; and a ban on the sale of dogs and cats in pet shops, at markets, shows and exhibitions as well as in the street. It also calls for controls on internet trade in dogs and cats; specific requirements for the transport of dogs and cats in the context of an economic activity; and a ban on surgical mutilations other than for health reasons.
The report is well worth reading, if only to see how the legislation in one EU member state compares with that in another. However, there is clearly more to it than that. Its call for more EU legislation is unlikely to be universally popular, particularly in the current political climate, but its recommendations need to be taken seriously.