On 21th June, the Permanent Representation of the Netherlands hosted in Brussels the first meeting of the EU Animal Welfare Platform’s subgroup on improving the health & welfare of pets (dogs) in trade . The subgroup consists of nine Member States (FR, DK, RO, BE, SK, ES, DE, IT and NL), one independent experts, one professional organisations (FVE) together with Eurogroup for Animals, Four Paws and the RSPCA.
The increased demand-linked breeding of pets has led to the emergence of a profitable business. Many licensed and unlicensed – breeders are therefore currently producing animals for purely lucrative purposes. In several EU countries, most of the puppies and kittens traded illegally are produced in mass breeding facilities or by unscrupulous breeders. Generally, the first weeks of life are of crucial importance for ensuring the animal’s good socialisation and health. Unfortunately, this is when these animals spend most of their time confined without social interaction or appropriate sensory input. In order to afford minimum costs, these malnourished and dehydrated animals are usually kept in dark, dirty accommodations and also removed from the mother at a far too young age.
The pet trade subgroup, initiated by the Dutch Ministry of Agriculture, will focus on the implementation of a SMART working plan aiming to identify effective solutions to the smuggling of pets across the EU. To this intent, during the meeting, the members had a brainstorming session on the challenges and possible solutions to the illegal trade in pets. The subgroup aims to look into the very lucrative business related to the unscrupulous breeding and selling of puppies, as well as the movement of stray dogs for adoption purposes. In both cases, this trade of animals across the Member States is disguised as non-commercial movement of pets – i.e. pets travelling with their owner when no economic transactions are involved.
The group identified the lack of implementation and enforcement of the current legislative framework as one of the main challenges. The subgroup also took into account the need to better control breeders and the online selling of pets. The improvement of registration and identification systems was recognised by all participants as a key solution to tackle these challenges. The need to improve awareness among perspective owners who often purchase animals out of an impulse was addressed during the discussion. The development and dissemination of informative material and targeted guidelines for breeders, competent authorities, sellers and consumers were also seen as an objective of the subgroup’s work plan.
On the following day, during the third meeting of the EU Animal Welfare Platform, the member representative for the Netherlands and Chair of the subgroup on pet trade was invited to present on the scope of the subgroup and report on the outcomes of the first meeting. It is important to point out that in the same occasion, DG SANTE presented to the Platform a new EU Commission initiative to stop the illegal online sale of pets. This will consist in the implementation of a Coordinated Control Programme which will mandate national competent authorities to monitor and investigate classified advertisements of pets on internet. It is hoped that a synergy between these initiatives will allow for a great advancement in the fight against the illegal trade in dogs.
 The EU Platform on Animal Welfare, launched by the European Commission in 2017, is tasked to address the growing animal welfare concerns of millions of citizens across the EU. With the aim to exchange scientific knowledge, foster innovation and sharing good animal welfare practices, the Platform brings together 75 members, including Member States’ representatives, civil society, independent experts and international animal welfare advocacy organisations.
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