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Pet Travel Scheme

Volume 530: debated on Thursday 30 June 2011

Today I am announcing changes to the rules on the movement of pet dogs, cats and ferrets into the UK under the pet travel scheme. These changes will make it cheaper and easier for people to travel with their pets while putting in place proportionate controls to prevent rabies incursion and enabling the UK to maintain its rabies-free status.

The pet travel scheme is the system of controls in place to reduce the risk of rabies and certain parasites from entering the UK via the importation of domestic pet animals.

Before pets can enter the UK under the pet travel scheme they must meet certain animal health requirements, such as being vaccinated against rabies, which are laid down in European Union (EU) law (EC Regulation 998/2003). The EU regulation applies to all pet dogs, cats and ferrets moving between member states and from non-EU countries into the EU and sets out standard entry conditions. The regulation currently provides two temporary derogations to the UK to apply more stringent controls on rabies, ticks and tapeworm. These derogations expire on 31 December 2011.

Having considered all the options very carefully, I have decided, in agreement with ministerial colleagues in the devolved Administrations, that from 1 January 2012 the UK will harmonise its controls on rabies with the EU-wide pet movement system. This is in line with the positions of Ireland, Sweden and Malta who will also be harmonising their rabies controls from this date.

The key differences between the current pet travel scheme rules and how they will change from the 1 January 2012 are:

Pets travelling from other EU member states and “listed” third countries (countries which the EU considers do not present a higher risk of rabies incursion compared to movements within the EU, for example USA, Australia and Japan) will no longer need to be blood tested after they have been vaccinated against rabies.

Pets travelling from other EU member states and listed third countries will only have to wait 21 days following their rabies vaccination before they can enter the UK, rather than waiting 6 months as they do now.

Pets travelling from “unlisted” third countries (countries which have not applied or been accepted for listed status because of less robust veterinary or administrative systems or higher rabies incidence, such as China, India and South Africa) will no longer be required to undergo six months’ compulsory quarantine and will be able to enter the UK if they meet certain requirements These include being microchipped and having been vaccinated against rabies and passed a blood test. They will not be allowed to enter the UK for at least four months after the date of the vaccination.

Pet owners who need to travel to the UK at short notice will continue to have the option of voluntarily placing their pet in UK quarantine, where it will be required to undergo the necessary health treatments, such as being vaccinated and blood tested if required, before being released.

The European Commission has given a strong indication that it will shortly come forward with proposals that would enable the UK and other tapeworm-free countries to retain tapeworm controls with a treatment window of one to five days. There will be no mandatory tick treatment before pets enter the UK.

Rabies

The proposed changes to the controls on rabies are proportionate to the disease risks involved and are scientifically justified. Since the UK pet travel scheme was introduced in 2000, the likelihood of a human case of rabies in Europe has substantially reduced as a result of an effective and ongoing programme to reduce the disease in the domestic and wild animal populations of EU member states, together with improvements in the accessibility to rabies vaccination and post-exposure treatment. There has been not one reported case of rabies in the EU associated with the legal movement of pets under the EU pet movement system since it was introduced in 2004, with many hundreds of thousands of pet movements having taken place during that time.

This reduction in the level of rabies across the EU is reflected in the findings of a quantitative risk assessment undertaken for Defra by the Animal Health and Veterinary Laboratories Agency. Their report, which has been peer reviewed, concluded that the risk of a rabies case in the UK will remain very low when we harmonise with the EU pet movement rules, with a chance of, on average, one case in 211 years. The risk of an outbreak leading to a human fatality in the UK would be much lower. This report has been published on the Defra website today.

In addition to the robust scientific case for harmonisation, these revised pet movement rules will deliver substantial benefits to UK pet owners, particularly those people with assistance dogs, making it easier and more affordable for the people who presently travel from the UK and back with their pets (on average 100,000) each year and will open opportunities for many more to travel abroad with their pets. It will also reduce the time dogs need to spend cooped up in kennels. The annual benefits of reduced controls to pet owners resident in the UK are estimated to be £7 million. These changes will also provide UK citizens the same level of free movement with their pet animals which other EU citizens are allowed.

We will continue to ensure that the UK maintains a robust level of protection against rabies, given the seriousness of the disease. We have robust plans in place to deal with rabies should it be detected. As part of our ongoing disease preparedness work we keep the rabies control strategy under constant review, and will be consulting with stakeholder organisations later this year to ensure our plans remain appropriate and proportionate. When the rules change on 1 January 2012 we will be looking to ensure that every pet arriving in the UK will continue to be checked to ensure that it meets the EU requirements, regardless of which country it comes from, and we expect the private quarantine sector to retain a vital role in dealing with non-compliant animals. Stringent penalties remain in place for those that breach the law by smuggling animals into the country or by knowingly using false or misleading information/documentation.

Tapeworm

The UK is currently free of the tapeworm Echinococcus multilocularis and there is a strong scientific case for keeping controls in place to prevent its incursion into the UK. The European Commission has given a strong indication that it will shortly come forward with proposals that would enable the UK and other tapeworm-free countries to retain tapeworm controls with a treatment window of one to five days.

Ticks

Tick controls will no longer apply when the rules change on 1 January 2012. Although ticks which are capable of transmitting the disease Mediterranean Spotted Fever might enter the UK via pet movements, they could also enter the UK via other routes (for example on people or vehicles). Even then, the likelihood of ticks establishing in the UK is negligible. Our evidence base for maintaining tick controls is less robust than for tapeworm and we would have difficulty putting forward a case to show tick controls are fully effective, scientifically justified and proportionate to the risk of disease incursion. We will continue to work with vets to encourage pet owners travelling abroad to treat their pets against ticks, as they do at present, as part of good pet ownership practice. Pet owners are advised to talk to their vets about the appropriate course of action for their animals when planning a trip abroad.

There are a number of practical issues that still need to be worked through and Defra will be engaging with key stakeholders, including the quarantine and carrier industries, over the coming months. Members of the public who intend to travel abroad with their pet from 1 January 2012 should consult the Defra website for advice on the procedures to follow in the first instance, contact the Pets helpline or speak to their vet.