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(Updated 05/02/01)

Pets Travel Scheme: major changes ahead

The launch of the PETS Pilot Scheme at the end of February 2000 represented a significant shift in the Government’s approach to keeping rabies out of Britain.

In what must amount the biggest overhaul of the UK’s quarantine laws ever, MAFF is currently in the process of ‘tidying up’ all the rules on bringing animals into the country - which are currently scattered throughout the statute books - and intends to include them in one single piece of legislation.

This will include the Pets Travel Scheme, which will become the standard means by which animals will be imported, although animals that do not qualify for the scheme will still go into quarantine.

MAFF are keen to point out that this represents a significant change in emphasis in the legislation: The existing law states that animals cannot be imported unless they enter quarantine. At present, the PETS scheme represents an exception to the rule. In the future, it will become the mainstay of the rule.
The pilot Pet Travel Scheme has proved its popularity amongst pet owners beyond all doubt, and has rapidly evolved into a full-blown scheme. More than 12,500 cats and dogs have entered the UK under PETS in the past 11 months, and that number looks set to increase in the year ahead. A significant proportion of the animals entering the UK are, in fact, owned by UK residents, and have accompanied their owners on trips - mainly holidays - abroad.

The increase in pet traffic is all the more certain following the announcement that, from January 31st 2001, the PETS scheme is to be extended include a total of 28 rabies-free islands, including Japan, Australia and New Zealand.

MAFF have approached a number of transport companies running scheduled passenger services into the UK, inviting them to apply to join PETS, or to provide additional routes as the scheme develops. Late last year, British Airways expressed its reluctance to commit to the scheme, but reversed its decision after a few weeks - and several protests from pet owners - and announced that it would take part in the new scheme after all.

Other airlines apparently expressing an interest in participating in PETS are Air Malta, Air New Zealand, All Nippon Airways, Japan Airlines and Qantas.

The influential British Veterinary Association has warned, however, that as PETS continues to grow - and the future relaxation of quarantine requirements for animals imported from Canada and North America is currently under consideration - this expansion must not continue without safety checks. The Kennedy Committee had recommended that trained personnel carry out blood tests and various other checks on all animals entering the UK. The Government decided that this would be too costly, and instead left to the transporters. Many commentators argued that a busy official on a cross channel ferry or at an airport departure area would be too busy to ensure that a dog or cat was microchipped or whether its documentation was in order. Indeed, the largest failure rate for animals entering the UK (currently somewhere between 10 and 20%) is due to incorrect documentation, or the failure and/or loss of microchips.

The BVA has called for a revised risk assessment of the whole operation.

A BVA statement in the Veterinary Record said; “The introduction of PETS has strengthened the case for formalising Britain’s arrangements for disease surveillance in the companion animal sector, not just for rabies but for other zoonoses that might potentially be imported.... it is important that appropriate systems are explored and developed, and ways of funding them found.

“Veterinary surgeons remain in the front line of many of the arrangements under the Pet Travel Scheme and will continue to do all that they can to help make it work.”

* the Islands included in the new PETS Pilot Scheme, effective 31/1/2001, are Antigua and Barbuda, Ascension Island, Australia, Barbados, Bermuda, Cayman Island, Cyprus, Falkland Islands , Fiji, French Polynesia, Guadeloupe, Hawaii, Jamaica, Japan, Le Reunion, Malta, Martinique, Mauritius, Montserrat, New Caledonia, New Zealand, St Helens, St Kitts and Nevis, St Vincent, Singapore, Vanuatu, Wallis and Futuna.