The Dogs & Cats proposal and findings on the EU Action Plan on the Illegal Pet Trade

29 Feb 2024
The meeting of the Animal Welfare Intergroup during the second plenary session in February focused on the much sought-after proposal for a Regulation on the welfare of dogs and cats and their traceability as well as on the findings of the EU Action Plan on the Illegal Pet Trade.

Interventions delivered by Andrea Gavinelli, Head of Unit, and Lucie Carrouée, Deputy Head of Unit from DG SANTE G3, meticulously discussed the highly appreciated proposal for a Regulation. They underscored the historical significance of this legislation, as it marks the first initiative addressing the welfare of cats and dogs at the EU level. 

The speakers highlighted its legal foundations, rooted in Art 114 (internal market) and Art 43 (Agriculture), wherein the EU holds the competence to ensure the effective functioning of the market for dogs and cats while simultaneously upholding a high level of animal welfare, as outlined in Art 13.

Concerns from the audience and speakers were addressed such as the need to prevent loopholes by keeping many establishments under the suggested numbers in Art 4 to prevent them from slipping under the radar of this proposal, potentially leaving thousands of animals with inadequate protection. The Commission underscored the principle of proportionality, emphasising the need to strike a balance between safeguarding animal welfare and respecting the rights of responsible private breeders.

Another concern, as highlighted by Georgia Diamantopoulou, EU Companion Animal Coordinator at Four Paws and shared with the audience, revolved around the necessity for traceability for ALL cats and dogs. The rationale behind this is that any dog or cat can potentially become part of an economic activity at any point in their life. By ensuring that all animals are microchipped and their details are reliably recorded and registered, it aligns with Art 114, one of the legal bases for this proposal. 

In the same manner, the Commission underscored the lack of EU competence in the management of stray dog and cat population as well as on legislating on handling by pet owners, stressing important achievements such as the introduction of the so-called innovative approach of responsible ownership

The breeding and trade of cats and dogs within the EU is a profitable economic sector; valued at over 1.3 billion € annually, it’s riddled with fraudulent activities that jeopardise the health and welfare of animals, compromise public health, undermine consumer protection and distort the internal market.

Alicja Muznik from the Agri-Food Fraud Team at DG SANTE G5, European Commission presented the findings of the EU Action Plan on the Illegal Pet Trade which has been instrumental in spotlighting many problems partly addressed by this Proposal.

The report findings included the disguise of commercial activity as non-commercial movement, particularly from Eastern countries like Russia and Belarus, with rampant forgery of documents related to rabies vaccination.

Notable cases from Serbia revealed recurrent patterns across different Member States, indicating organised crime involvement. While Illegal pet trade may not be a priority for police forces, efforts are underway to establish inter-services cooperation, addressing the lack of interoperability among customs, police and veterinary authorities.

A recurring question in the audience focused on the distressing conditions of hunting dogs (Galgos) in Spain and the extent to which they are protected in the proposal. The Commission clarified that, while the breeding and keeping of these dogs beyond specified numbers will fall under the proposal's scope, various other aspects are within the exclusive competence of the Spanish authorities, aligning with the subsidiarity principle of European law.

Inquiries were raised regarding the incorporation of powers for the European Commission to establish a Positive List in the proposal. However, the Commission could only allude to the ongoing impact assessment, which will determine the feasibility of implementing such a List.

The insightful presentations from the speakers shed light on the forthcoming improved protection for the welfare of cats, dogs, and potentially other companion animals. Confidence was also expressed in the European institutions' capacity to further elevate the aspirations of this proposal.