Regulating the online sale of animals is needed now more than ever, as the COVID-19 pandemic has brought about a sharp rise in consumer demand for pets. The influx of unvaccinated, sick animals threatens public health and evokes serious animal welfare concerns.
Dr Jennifer Maher from University of South Wales explained the complexities of organised crime structures engaging in illegal animal trade and how consumers are unaware of the nonexistent levels of protection and regulation while buying animals online. The message of better regulation was echoed by MEPs and experts throughout the meeting - the DSA introduces long-awaited opportunities to instill measures that could help curb the widely unregulated trade of animals online.
Dr Paolo Zucca, DVM, representing the Biocrime Project, reminded the participants that the current pandemic is only a symptom of a much wider problem faced by humankind: the negative impact of human activities on the ecosystem. The expert warned that other pandemics are imminent if policymakers continue to ignore the root causes of zoonoses reaching pandemic potential and calls for a crackdown on illegal pet and wildlife trade.
MEPs were also informed by Georgia Diamantopoulou, EU Companion Animal Policy Coordinator at the Four Paws European Policy Office about the crucial points within the DSA - Article 22 on Seller Traceability Requirement must be strengthened and requirements cannot be optional. The expert pointed out that the EU acknowledges the problem, but must do more to ensure proper protection both to animals sold online and to consumers making the purchase.
How can the Digital Services Act help to curb the illegal animal trade online?
MEP Anja Hazekamp emphasised the Five Steps to make online sale of animals safer for the European consumer through the Digital Services Act:
- Step 1: Recognise "illegally traded animals"
- Step 2: Introduce effective due diligence process for advertisement approval
- Step 3: Apply proactive information verification process
- Step 4: Not enable publications known to be false or misleading
- Step 5: Ensure legal framework fit for long-term challenges and technological developments
MEPs expressed hope that the IMCO committee will introduce wording in line with the aforementioned Five Steps and that a coordinated cross-party approach will be adopted to tackle the EU-wide problem of illegally traded animals.
Expert presentations can be accessed here:
Illegal animal trade across Europe as an organised crime
Jennifer Maher, University of South Wales
Paolo Zucca, Biocrime
How can Digital Services Act help in targeting illegal animal trade?
Georgia Diamantopoulou, Four Paws