Exotic pet trade urgently needs regulation: Europe needs “Positive Lists”
Over the past decades, Europe has seen a growing number of exotic animals being kept as pets. Keeping a domesticated animal such as a cat or a dog as a pet is quite different from keeping non-domesticated species. In the absence of appropriate legal provisions to ensure that the trade does not undermine the welfare of the animals nor pose a threat to human and animal health and biodiversity, European exotic pet owners are increasingly confronted with their pet’s unsuitability for a “pet life”.
The conference has been moderated by MEP Anja Hazekamp (GUE/NGL, NL). “Controlling and eradicating invasive alien species, treating people because of zoonotic diseases, fighting against illegal trade and culling thousands of farm animals in order to prevent the spread of illness, are all direct consequences of absent or inadequate laws and regulations on exotic pet trade” was MEP Sirpa Pietikäinen’s (EPP, FI) opening statement to the event. The European Commission emphasized too that the exotic pet trade is one of the main pathways of introduction of invasive alien species in Europe.
Honorable Roderick Galdes, Maltese Parliamentary Secretary for Agriculture, Fisheries and Animal Rights stated: “Based on our experience, I wish to emphasise that it is imperative that all animals are given the care and respect they require without any compromise. To achieve this, it is of fundamental importance that all stakeholders including the respective authorities, act collectively and devise a network of knowledge sharing to formulate the necessary tools whether legal, administrative or experience based to achieve such goals. We should maintain momentum to continue raising awareness in our society and enforce as necessary. Only in such a manner we can ascertain effective measures discouraging any form of illegal or inappropriate trade, with a view to ensuring the respect of the welfare of such animal”
David van Gennep, CEO at AAP Animal Advocacy and Protection, complemented these perspectives with the standpoint of one of Europe’s primary rescue centres for exotic pets. He stated: “On our daily rescue practice, we see all the negative consequences of the trade on exotic animals as pets. Exotic animals are being bred, sold, bought and kept with no attention for their suitability to such a life. Once the owners realize they are not able to care for the animal, or that it displays annoying or even dangerous behaviours, or that it is impossible or too expensive to provide proper veterinary care to, they proceed to abandon or surrender it. In 2015, 76% of the former pets rescued by AAP had been abandoned by their owner”.
Historically, most Member States have introduced negative lists to manage the entry and presence of exotic species on their territories. Such lists exhaustively number the types of animals that cannot be kept as pets. But new species have appeared regularly on the pet market, leaving their future owners, society and the animals themselves unprotected from the consequences of their new ‘pet’ status. Negative lists by their very nature need frequent updating, which is expensive, time-consuming and always a step behind the current circumstances surrounding the species, for example with regards to conservation status, which makes negative lists highly inefficient.
This is why AAP Animal Advocacy and Protection and Eurogroup for Animals have been campaigning for several years for the introduction of more restrictive ‘positive lists’, encompassing only those exotic animals that can safely be kept as pets and simply ruling out all other species. “A Positive List is the most effective, concise, preventive, transparent, enforceable and economically feasible way to regulate the exotic pet trade” said Reineke Hameleers, Director of Eurogroup for Animals. “This system, preventive at its core, is also perfectly coherent with and complementary to existing EU legislation.”
Karmenu Vella, EU Commissioner for Environment, Maritime Affairs and Fisheries indeed underlined in his introductory message that nothing prevents Member States from adopting more restrictive legislation than the EU Regulation on invasive alien species.
As frontrunners in Europe, Dutch and Flemish officials presented the recently introduced Positive Lists for mammal pets in their countries, whilst highlighting challenges and results. Dutch official Hans van Dongen explained that “the method which has been developed for assessing mammal species for the suitability as pets fulfills the criteria of the Andibel Arrest. The Dutch Positive list is based on this assessment method. All the background information on the species assessments, the risk calculations and the sources are available to be shared with other countries working towards the adoption of Positive Lists”.
Felix Wildschutz, of the Ministry of Agriculture, Viticulture and Consumers’ Protection of Luxembourg, and Petras Auštrevičius MEP (ALDE, LT) presented the reasons why Luxembourg and Lithuania are now also considering regulation through a Positive List.