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Pet travel rules OK?

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FOR all the excitement generated by the Prime Minister's announcement this week that the Government plans to repeal the 1972 European Communities Act, EU rules will continue to apply in the UK for some time yet. A consultation on the current pet travel rules launched by Defra last month (see p 343 of this issue) provides a good example of the strange legal limbo in which the country now finds itself. Defra's consultation document acknowledges that the outcome of the referendum on EU membership on June 23 ‘clearly has implications for how pet travel policy will operate across the UK in future’. At the same time, however, it points out that the UK will remain a full member of the EU until the Brexit negotiations are concluded and that all the rights and obligations of EU membership remain in force. The fundamental requirements of the EU Pet Travel Scheme, it takes pains to point out, are not the subject of the consultation; rather, the consultation forms part of a review it is conducting to fulfil a statutory obligation to see whether domestic legislation to ‘deliver’ the EU Pet Travel Scheme in the UK is working as planned.

Despite such provisos, it is difficult to look at the consultation document without wondering what (if anything) might happen to the pet travel rules after Brexit, and whether the existing arrangements could be improved.

The consultation relates to the Non-Commercial Movement of Pet Animals Order 2011 (subsequently amended in 2014) which, in January 2012, brought the UK's pet travel rules in line with those applied by the rest of the EU. As a result of the changes introduced in 2012, pets entering the UK from other EU member states or specified countries outside the EU no longer had to have a blood test after being vaccinated against rabies, and could enter the country 21 days after being vaccinated, rather than having to wait six months after a successful blood test, as was the case previously. Pets from unlisted countries outside the EU could enter the UK if they had been vaccinated against rabies, passed a blood test and then waited three months in the country of origin, rather than having to spend six months in quarantine. A mandatory requirement that dogs have to be wormed before entering the UK was retained when the rules were changed, to help reduce the risk of introducing the tapeworm Echinococcus multilocularis, which is of public health concern, while a mandatory requirement for treatment against ticks was dropped.

The amendment Order of 2014 implemented changes to the European rules agreed in 2013, and aimed to ‘strengthen compliance with the [pet travel] regime across Europe and improve the security and traceability of the pet passport’ (VR, December 6, 2014, vol 175, p 546). Among other things, it introduced a requirement that puppies could not be vaccinated against rabies until they were 12 weeks old, and changes to pet passports to make them harder to tamper with.

Defra notes in the consultation document that the changes introduced in 2012 ‘were, on the whole, deregulatory’ and that the main policy aim was to ‘make it cheaper and easier for UK citizens to travel with their pets, while at the same time ensuring that appropriate safeguards are in place to minimise disease risks to human and animal health’. It further notes that there have not been any cases of rabies in the UK associated with the legal or illegal movement of pets since 2012 or since the UK first launched its Pet Travel Scheme in 2000 (although in 2008 there was a case in a dog imported from Sri Lanka in a quarantine kennel in London (VR, May 3, 2008, vol 162, p 598). That said, it would be wrong to suggest that consequences of the changes have not caused concern, as illustrated, for example, by a debate at the BVA Congress at the London Vet Show in 2013, where delegates raised concerns about the increased number of pets entering the UK, (anecdotal) reports of animals being brought into the country without being checked, and the possible involvement of criminal gangs in a potentially lucrative trade in animals via the internet. They also expressed concern about the animal health and welfare consequences of the importation of street dogs by well-meaning charities (VR, November 30, 2013, vol 173, pp 508, 509-511). Similar concerns were aired during a BVA Congress debate in 2014 (VR, December 6, vol 175, 2014, pp 546, 551-553) and, although the changes made as a result of the amendment Order at the end of that year may have gone some way towards addressing these, it seems fair to say they have not gone away.

Against this background, a question in the consultation document about whether the implementation of the rules has had any negative unintended consequences seems likely to attract comment.

The UK was reluctant to drop the requirement for treatment against ticks when the rules were harmonised in 2012 but ended up doing so anyway. The problem was that the rules aim to facilitate pet travel while safeguarding public health, rather than safeguarding animal health per se. As the consultation document explains: ‘Only tapeworm treatment was found to provide the necessary compelling evidence of public health benefit to justify to the EU Commission that the UK should keep this control. An evaluation of the benefits of continued tick treatment controls determined that there was insufficient justification to retain tick controls on animal health grounds.’ At present, people are advised to seek veterinary advice on tick treatment when taking their pets abroad, but this is on a voluntary basis. This aspect of the rules could perhaps be revisited after Brexit but questions arise as to whether this will be a priority for the Government and whether pet owners would be prepared to revert to more complex arrangements having got used to things as they stand. Meanwhile, as discussed in an article on canine babesiosis by Nicholas Johnson on p 356 of this issue of Veterinary Record, it is important to remain vigilant and strengthen surveillance for emerging diseases in companion animals. It is also worth remembering that it is not just travelling pets that need to be treated against ticks.

By limiting the terms of reference of the consultation so precisely, and explaining that it is being undertaken to help meet a statutory obligation, the consultation document leaves the (possibly false) impression that Defra sees this as an administrative exercise. However, for those at the sharp end, the way the rules operate means very much more than that. Existing obligations have to be met, but at some stage it will have to look further ahead and think about what happens after Brexit.

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