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Present and future PETS

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Last Sunday marked the 10th anniversary of the Pet Travel Scheme (PETS), which was launched on February 28, 2000, to make it easier for owners to bring their pets into the UK by providing an alternative to quarantine. Such anniversaries provide an opportunity to look to the past and, looking back, considering the uncertainties that preceded its launch, it is remarkable to reflect on how established PETS has become. It is also important to look to the future, however, because PETS is now running on borrowed time and the scheme in its present form may not be around for much longer.

As things stand, the UK, through PETS, applies stricter rules on pet travel than most other EU member states, in terms of the requirements for serological testing to confirm that animals have been successfully vaccinated against rabies, and for animals to be treated against ticks and tapeworms just before entering or re-entering the UK. This is made possible through a derogation under European law which is shortly due to expire as European rules are harmonised. The derogation, which is currently due to come to an end at the end of June this year, has already been extended on more than one occasion. Last June, the European Commission proposed that it should be extended again, probably for the last time, until the end of December 2011, to help ensure that the rabies situation in the EU continues to improve and give those member states that currently apply the derogation (Finland, Ireland, Malta, Sweden and the UK) ‘confidence and sufficient time’ to adapt to the general EU regime on pet travel. The Commission's proposal will be considered by the European Parliament next week and it is to be hoped that MEPs endorse it.

The proposal to extend the derogation until the end of 2011 has the support of the Federation of Veterinarians of Europe (FVE) which, in an opinion paper published last October,1 noted that it should ‘allow the EU Member States in which rabies still occurs to make adequate efforts to complete the eradication of rabies within the EU’. The FVE called on the European Commission to initiate an EU-wide echinococcosis risk assessment, to be followed by an appropriate prevention and control strategy. It also recommended further investigation into the spread of ticks and tickborne diseases in the EU and the development of a strategy to reduce the incidence of these diseases.

The proposed extension also has the firm support of the BVA and BSA VA, which believe that the existing arrangements are an important tool in balancing the free movement of animals against the risk of spreading diseases and which, while accepting that EU animal health policy must move towards harmonisation, remain concerned that the timescale is too short for the necessary assurances to be obtained. Some of these concerns were aired at a seminar held during the BSA VA congress last April, and again at the BVA Congress in September, where particular concern was expressed about the risk of Echinococcus multilocularis being introduced and becoming established in the UK if the current requirement under PETS for dogs to be treated against tapeworms is removed (VR, April 11, 2009, vol 164, pp 446-448; VR, October 3, 2009, vol 165, pp 387-388).

Disease controls need to be effective, proportionate and based on a proper assessment of the risks; they also need to be such that they can be complied with and enforced. The difficulty is that, in many instances, data are lacking, which makes quantitative risk assessment difficult. This is particularly true in the case of E multilocularis and, given the public health implications of this parasite, it would seem wise to retain the existing controls until the necessary information can be obtained. In the meantime, it is important to continue to monitor the situation regarding rabies, and assess the risk to the UK if harmonised European controls are adopted. Defra is currently in the process of commissioning such a risk assessment and a tender document has been issued.2

PETS has obviously been successful in terms of making it easier for people to travel with their pets while helping to keep rabies out of the country. However, the increased movement of animals has not been without its downside, as evidenced by the fact that, since its introduction, a number of previously ‘exotic’ diseases have found their way into the UK. Owners need to be aware of the disease risks of travelling with their pets and to take appropriate preventive measures. As the EU moves towards harmonisation, it remains important to strike the right balance between freedom of movement and protecting public and animal health.

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