Commission proposes rules on pet welfare, illegal puppy trade

Commission proposes rules on pet welfare, illegal puppy trade

Through the new rules, the European Commission aims to lay down for the first time some minimum common welfare standards for breeding and keeping pet animals, putting an end to a long-standing legislative loophole in the EU.

Despite EU provisions on the protection of dogs and cats when bred for scientific purposes or their non-commercial transport across Europe, there is currently no EU framework for the welfare of animals kept as pets.

The legislative initiative was unveiled as part of an animal welfare package that also includes new EU rules for the transport of live animals. The estimated annual value of dog and cat sales in the bloc amounts to €1.3 billion, according to figures provided by the Commission.

A major new feature concerns the improvement of the traceability of dogs and cats, including when offered for sale or adoption online. The proposed rules require mandatory identification by electronically-read transponders for all dogs and cats before being placed on the market, which should discourage fraud and allow better control of their animal welfare conditions.

“We’ve been advocating for this for decades,” explained Reineke Hameleers, CEO of the animal protection organisation Eurogroup for Animals, who stressed the importance of interoperable national databases. Although pet registration is already mandatory in 24 member states, the national registries are currently unlinked apart from a private initiative, called Europetnet, which connects national and regional databases in 17 EU countries.

An EU-wide ban on painful practices such as ear cropping and tail docking, which are still allowed in a small number of member states, is also part of the Commission’s proposal, together with measures to ensure “a level playing field between operators keeping and placing on the market dogs and cats across the Union”.

"Having some common goals for breeders and sellers is going to have a significant impact and our citizens have been demanding this for years," EU Health and Animal Welfare Commissioner Stella Kyriakides told the reporters on Thursday (7 December). The new rules are expected to apply to around 24,000 and 30,000 commercial dog breeders and between 8,000 and 10,000 commercial cat breeders.

Human health also affected

A first call to deal with the lack of EU legislation on the matter came in 2020 when the European Parliament approved a non-binding resolution calling on the Commission to put forward some harmonised system of mandatory identification and registration of cats and dogs to fight illegal trade.

In November, MEPs from the centre-right European People’s Party (EPP), the biggest political group in the European Parliament, sent a letter to Commission chief Ursula von der Leyen asking to use the announced update of the EU animal welfare legislation “as an opportunity to call for targeted measures for better protection of pets.”

“Illegal puppy trading is a crime against animal welfare and also poses risks to our health,” German MEP Peter Liese, who's also health coordinator for the EPP and one of the signatories of the letter, told Euronews. According to him, one of the main risks coming from illegal trade is that animals could contract diseases because of the lack of vaccination, treatment, or examination.

“This also endangers the health of all of us,” he continued, adding that some breeders and operators are “mafia-like structures”, hailing the fact that the EU “is finally taking action against them”.

The Commission stresses that these measures are necessary to protect the health of humans as well as pets. “Lack of traceability and proper vaccination represents a serious risk for transmission of zoonoses, such as rabies and echinococcosis, and therefore public health risks in the Union,” the text of the regulation reads.

The EU executive also points out that insufficient measures to address proper socialisation of puppies and kittens cause issues which later in life can cause serious public safety concerns due to the development of aggressive behaviour.

Online sales and non-EU imports

The sale of dogs and cats through online platforms and social media is also growing, with around 60% of dog and cat owners purchasing their pets through the internet. Offering dogs for sale online is currently regulated in only eight member states, while cat sales are regulated in seven.

There is currently no specific EU obligation related to sales of dogs and cats via online platforms but the new traceability system will be built on the Digital Service Act (DSA), a recent legislation applicable to online commerce and platforms approved in 2022.

"We have this specific system that allows registration and traceability but we also need to give information to consumers when they use those interfaces, to make sure that they are aware of what they got to be looking for," a senior EU official told Euronews in a technical briefing.

Another aspect that the Commission is willing to tackle in the new rules is the illegal trade from outside the EU, particularly from countries such as Serbia, Belarus, Russia, and Türkiye. Fraudulent activities in the movement of dogs from third countries detected by the Commission include fake health certificates and rabies antibody titration reports as well as falsified pet passports.

“Introducing animal welfare requirements on breeding establishments, pet shops, and shelters in the EU, without requiring equivalent requirements for imports of dogs and cats from third countries, would lead to an increase in such imports from third countries’ establishments applying poor standards of welfare,” the Commission explains in the proposed regulation.

"Those who export pets to the EU must comply with our rules and conditions, we will set up a list of approved countries and establishments," the senior EU official said.