‘One Size Fits All’ scheme will allow unrestricted travel for all pets
across Europe ‘within five years’
by Nick Mays
THE UK Pet Passport system introduced under the PETS Travel Scheme will be replaced by a new European Pet Passport under a new EU Directive that comes into effect on July 3rd this year.
Although the UK has been granted special dispensation by Brussels to retain its six months ‘house quarantine’ following an anti-rabies vaccination blood test for all animals travelling to the UK from abroad, this system will eventually be harmonised’ into a ‘one size fits all’ European Pet Passport system which will allow dogs, cats and ferrets to travel across Europe – including the UK - without the need for a blood test.
In September 2000 – the same year that the UK’s quarantine regulations were relaxed and the PETS Travel Scheme started up, the European Commission tabled a draft resolution on the unrestrictive movement of ‘non-commercial’ animals (i.e. pets) within the EU. After discussion by Member States, the directive EC 998/2003 became law in July 2003, and is due to come into effect across the EU – including all the ‘new’ EU countries – from July 2004.
Essentially, the Commission required all animals to move freely between member states by use of a EU-wide Pet Passport. This was designed by consultation with all Member States, each country being responsible for issuing its own language version of the document. The UK’s Euro Pet passport will begin being issued by the end of June 2004.
The passport itself is slightly larger than a human passport, is coloured blue with the logo of 15 gold stars embossed on the front, with the country’s own identity alongside. The passport will contain standard information, printed in five languages, including English, and will contain details of the pet owner’s identity, the pet’s identification details, such as microchip and/or tattoo number, details of an up to date rabies vaccination and details of any other vaccinations that the pet has had.
However, as the UK’s DEFRA are at pains to point out, national rules on the passage of pets will still apply for a transitional period of five years, so all animals travelling to the UK will still need details of current tick and tapeworm treatment contained within the passport. Article 16 of the new regulation makes it clear that this will be the case for a ‘transitional period’ of 5 years. After this time, the EU may the UK to retain its requirement for tick and tapeworm treatment, subject to requirements. If EU research decides that cross-infection of parasites not resident within the UK are no longer a viable concern, then this requirement will be dropped from the EU Pet Passport.
Dick Ackroyd, DEFRA’s Pet Travel Scheme Manager told OUR DOGS that there was need for anyone to be concerned over the changes, as DEFRA was keen to maintain the UK’s rabies-free status.
"Essentially, the European Pet Passport will eliminate the need for the residency document and will replace the current export health certificate, currently the PETS 1 and PETS 5 documents," said Mr Ackroyd. "However, I must emphasise most strongly that animals still need to wait for a six month period after a rabies vaccination blood test to enter the UK – the ‘house quarantine’ period – as well as tick and tapeworm treatment certification. DEFRA held out very strongly for this, and received special dispensation, as did Ireland and Sweden, who have their own ‘house quarantine’ requirements for animals entering from overseas."
However, Mr Ackroyd did admit that there might be "complete harmonisation of the European Pet Passport one day", following the five year review.
Mr Ackroyd continued: "There will be a transitional period when the European Pet Passport will run alongside the UK Pet Passport, as some British citizens will be planning to travel under the PETS scheme after July 3rd when the European Pet passport comes into effect. During this time, existing PETS travel certification will remain valid.
"To give an example: Let’s say there’s a British family on holiday in Italy with their pets and they are due to return to the UK after July 3rd. They had already applied to DEFRA for the necessary PETS certification and will be able top return using the old certificate – this will be accepted at the accepted Italian ports of travel. However, we have yet to establish whether they will need a European Pet Passport to go between, say. Italy and France to the UK, because the European Pet passport is the valid document for crossing borders within the EU.
"So we still need to establish finer details whether EU Pet Passport required for certain journeys to the UK, but as soon as we know, this information will be made available on our website and in our PETS information."
Mr Ackroyd added: "Just to reassure British pet owners; they do not need a European Pet Passport unless they are travelling in Europe. It is not a requirement for all pets within the EU that are staying at home."
However, fears about the efficiency of border checks and health safeguards to prevent the spread of rabies, together with the possible phasing out of tick and tapeworm treatment have already been expressed in relation to the new scheme. Rabies is endemic in many of the east European countries soon to become full EU members on May 1st., included Poland and Lithuania. Initially, DEFRA had stated that these countries would not be included under the PETS scheme, until appropriate safeguards had been put in place, but this decision was overridden by the EU directive.
Mr Ackroyd did concede that the day could come when east European asylum seekers might turn up in the UK with their dogs, which would be accepted if they had the necessary European Pet Passport documentation.
KC Secretary Caroline Kisko told OUR DOGS that the KC had been presented with discussion documents on the European Pet Passport some months ago. "We did make several comments and observations, but the EU accepted none of our comments," said Mrs Kisko. "Essentially however, the new European Pet Passport is just a question of paperwork. At moment we in the UK are still protected to a certain extent by our own laws. We must keep an eye on what’s happening in Europe until changes come about in our own laws. The idea is good one, the paperwork is good – but we must be wary when harmonisation takes over from the PETS Travel Scheme."
Mike Parrish of Par Air Services is, like many pet shipping agents, gearing up for the change in regulations and the introduction of the European Pet Passport. However, he has serious misgivings.
"Personally. I can’t see it working," said Mr Parrish. "First, you have to educate all the pet owners in Europe, and then you have to make sure there are adequate border checks. But you can drive across Europe nowadays and nine times out of ten there are no border checks. There are checks at airports where there are customs and animal information officers, but not on road borders. I can just see pets being taken across Europe with virtually no kind of restraint or restriction whatsoever – and we are already getting plenty of falsified veterinary certificates from some countries under the PETS Scheme. I can only see it getting worse under the European Pet passport scheme."
Mr Parrish added: "I was told unofficially by an officer of MAFF (which became DEFRA) that they expected an outbreak of rabies in UK within five years of the PETS Scheme coming into effect. I think we’ve been lucky up until now, because I think it will certainly happen now."
The new regulations only affect dogs, cats and ferrets. Smaller animals such as Rabbits, hamsters, rats etc, should be free to travel, although the European Commission is still investigating whether any health certification is needed to allow them unrestricted travel.
AMENDMENTS TO PET TRAVEL FOR CYPRUS AND GIBRALTAR
A directive from the Cypriot Ministry of Agriculture has been issued regarding the passage of animals into Cyprus after May 1st 2004, when Cyprus becomes a full member of the EU.
Cyprus has decided to harmonise in line with other EU countries - other than the UK and Ireland - on quarantine issues. This means they will not be issuing any more import permits and requiring animals to undergo six months ‘house quarantine’ following an anti-rabies vaccination blood test.
Cyprus will require that dogs and cats entering the country are microchipped, vaccinated against rabies, followed by an anti-rabies titre rabies blood test, after which time animals can enter Cyprus after one month.
Gibraltar will be operating the same system once it too becomes a full EU member from May 1st.
www.defra.gov.uk - see under PETS travel scheme