Organised by the Parliament Magazine in association with the EU Dog & Cat Alliance, the reception on Tuesday heard calls for an EU action plan to tackle the illegal trade of cats and dogs.
Host Sirpa Pietikäinen the Chair of Parliament’s animal welfare intergroup underlined that the issue of dog and cat welfare in breeding and trade was “extremely important - there are 63 million dogs and 72 million cats in the EU, and almost one in the three households owns a cat or a dog.”
Pietikäinen pointed out that the illegal trade of cats and dogs - including so-called ‘puppy factories’, “causes enormous suffering for the animals, but also for families and children when animals fall ill. Of course, this also results in increased costs when taking care of our dear pets.”
Pietikäinen, a Finnish member of Parliament’s EPP group, called for a register of pets, something she said was “doable, we have the framework for it.” She also urged policymakers to set up a status for legal breeders and their activities, as well as a regulation requiring animals for sale to be registered, and for sellers to be legally approved breeders.
European health and food safety Commissioner Vytenis Andriukaitis, pointed out that the EU has had a comprehensive set of EU animal health rules in place for several years. "They ensure, among other important objectives, the safe cross-border movement of dogs and cats, and in particular help prevent the spread of rabies", he told attendees.
“The enforcement of these rules is the responsibility of member states,” he explained, adding that national governments "need to develop the necessary tools and procedures to carry out controls and identify penalties for infringing this legislation. It goes without saying these sanctions must be effective, proportionate and dissuasive.”
Andriukaitis also gave an update on the creation of the EU animal welfare platform, which he hoped would be operational by summer 2017 and “should be composed of all the stakeholders involved in animal welfare, from member states to consumers, from breeders to animal welfare organisations and as such it should become the real engine of future progress in the area,” he said.
Adrian Burder, the CEO of Dogs Trust, a founding member of the EU Dogs & Cats Alliance said he was pleased that the alliance had “grown to 60 organisations from 21 EU countries.”
He emphasised that illegal pet trafficking “also affects citizens and public health”, posing the risk of spreading deadly diseases. Additionally, “owners often don’t realise the experiences trafficked pets have gone through; these experiences could lead to potential behavioural issues,” said Burder.
He added, “Only through a coordinated approach” can pet trafficking be stopped, arguing that this would help protect the millions of people “whose welfare and rights are being undermined by unscrupulous offenders every day.”
“We need the European Parliament and member states to support the push for an action plan which would cover animal health and welfare, public health, consumer protection, internal market and anti-trafficking methods.”
Martin Chudý from the Slovakian permanent representation then addressed attendees on behalf of the Slovakian EU Council presidency, stressing that pet welfare was “very important to the presidency” and featured on their agenda.
He also said that the Slovakian EU Council presidency had been discussing several topics related to animal trade, including “stray dogs, the identification of pets, the sharing of information among the relevant authorities and the illegal trade of puppies.”
But, he warned, “it is not just about discussions, it is also about conclusions, outcomes and steps which should be undertaken in the future. All of these steps must be feasible and realistic.” Chudý said he was pleased that most member states supported the establishment of an animal welfare platform.
He said that the Slovakian presidency was working on a range of issues, although it was difficult to cover all topics in only six months. “One of the member states’ concerns is the harmonisation of breeding techniques,” he said, “It seems to be a very challenging topic, each member state has its own system. Slovakia, not as a presidency but as a member state, is ready to participate in finding solutions.”
He also stressed that, “in order to protect pet animals, all member states should cooperate,” and called on the Commission and Parliament to unite on policy efforts.
The final speaker of the evening was Petras Auštrevičius, a vice-president of the European Parliament’s animal welfare intergroup. The Lithuanian MEP said, “It might take years, but we must close doors for illegal pet trafficking.”
He added that there was an important role to play for regions and local governments; “animal welfare policy is especially visible at regional level.”
Auštrevičius concluded by saying, “There is a lot of talk about ‘Better Europe’. ‘Better Europe’ will come when we have better protection for pets."