Digital Services Act: if not for the animals, do it for the money


Digital Services Act: if not for the animals, do it for the money

21 January 2022
On 20 January 2022, the European Parliament adopted its position at First Reading on the Digital Services Act. Once the Council has adopted it's General Approach, trialogue negotiations between the co-legislators and the European Commission will begin.

We welcome this very important step in the fight against online illegal pet trade. Although illegal animal trade is included in the scope of the regulation, we note some loopholes, and call Member States to further improve this text to curb the illegal trade of companion animals.

The online pet trade is a threat to animal welfare, public health and public finances

The large majority of pets from the illegal trade are sold online. These cats and dogs often do not comply with EU health requirements, often too young to have been vaccinated, accompanied by fraudulent passports which provide false information on their origin. Such illegal trade threatens not just the welfare of the animals involved, but also EU competencies like public health, animal health and consumer protection. Rabies, a lethal zoonosis causing 59,000 deaths globally each year, is becoming more prevalent in countries such as the Netherlands, Poland or France due to the influx of unvaccinated puppies. This trade also has consequences in terms of tax revenue loss as illegal sellers do not pay taxes on their activities, which impacts the functioning of the EU’s Single Market. It is perplexing that at the time of skyrocketing inflation and hollow public budgets, policy makers do not reach for the obvious by closing down the loopholes, taking a grip on illegal sale of animals and reclaiming lost tax revenues. 

The Digital Services Act recognises the need to fight the illegal trade of animals online…

The Digital Services Act is at the moment the most important and only legislative tool to tackle this online trade at the cross border scale. Acknowledging the rapid growth of online activities in the last decade, the EU aims at getting these activities under control to protect consumers, establish the accountability of online platforms and fight illegal online trade. The text adopted by the European Parliament enshrines illegal animal trade as an example of unlawful activities addressed by the regulation, recognising the urgent need to act on this front to protect EU consumers and animals.

…However, it is insufficient to ensure the accountability of all online platforms and to scrap illegal pet trade

Although we appreciate this important advancement to tackle the online pet trade, we regret the lack of ambition of the text and its incompatibility with the European Parliament’s own resolution on this very topic. This is first shown by the exclusion of traceability obligations on traders for all online platforms regardless their size. Illegal trade of animals and other illegal products often takes place on platforms that do not qualify as very large online platforms. The regulation would be ineffective if it fails to address the situation at all online marketplaces.

In addition, the text misses in appropriately requiring marketplaces to proactively check information obtained on the traders and products. Online marketplaces should have due diligence obligations and verify information provided by traders to ensure that no illegal products, including pets, are sold.

Finally, the regulation would not apply to trade in “closed groups” where a human decision is needed to grant access. However, many advertisements, posts and publications related to the pet trade happen in these groups with no direct financial return to the platform, in the blind spot of the legislation. 

We urge the Member States to strengthen the provisions of the Digital Services Act to efficiently tackle the illegal pet trade that threatens animals and consumers, and can cause significant damage to human health and public finances. Specifically, we ask Member States to amend article 22 by adding the following paragraph: “All online marketplaces shall ensure that the trade applies only to cats and dogs that are microchipped, registered under and offered by their owner and registered breeder” to ensure that no online trader can anonymously advertise animals.