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Government ‘rabies’ review elicits poor response

THE UK’S long-standing rabies prevention laws may be facing a radical overhaul in the coming months, including a reduction in quarantine periods for animals entering the UK from countries not incorporated as part of the PETS Travel Scheme, thanks to a new government review of the existing rabies prevention policy.

Veterinary risk assessments and consultation comments informing the review into the UK 's current rabies prevention policy have been completed and independently peer reviewed and have been published by DEFRA this month.

However, the response from the 124 external stakeholder organisations invited to comment on, and influence the future direction of, DEFRA’s rabies disease import control policy review, was a worrying low total of 31 responses as well as 8 responses from private individuals.

The Department of Agriculture and Rural Development (DARD) in Northern Ireland carried out their own consultation, inviting 88 organisations and Northern Ireland’s MPs and MEPs to comment – a pathetically low 6 responses were received.

Fred Landeg, DEFRA’s Deputy Chief Veterinary Officer said: ‘We need to ensure that our controls on rabies and other exotic diseases are proportionate to the risk of these diseases entering the UK, whilst always considering the primary aim of protecting public health.

‘Our disease control policies are always based on the principles of risk and proportionality however it is important that the science on which we base our policies is sound and stands up to scrutiny.’

Minister for Animal Health and Welfare, Ben Bradshaw said:’I welcome the opportunity to take a fresh look at our rabies controls. I note there is some support from external stakeholders for change in rabies controls where this can be based on the evidence. I also acknowledge their concerns about the risks of other diseases entering the UK.

‘The evidence received so far from government vets, officials and the veterinary risk assessments raises very important questions about our current approach. It indicates that our current controls may no longer be proportionate to the risk of rabies entering the UK and we may need to consider modernising processes and regulation in this area. Our controls must also be consistent with current thinking on better regulation.

‘I will be seeking further views before I reach conclusions. Meanwhile, our current rabies prevention policies remain firmly in place.’

The list of organisations consulted by DEFRA included the Kennel Club, the Governing Council of the Cat Fancy, Dogs Trust, Guide Dogs for the Blind Association and British Veterinary Association.

The veterinary risk assessments, and a summary of the views received from the initial consultation with external stakeholder organisations, are now available on the DEFRA website at:

www.DEFRA.gov.uk/animalh/diseases/notifiable/rabies/index.htm