An EU-wide harmonised pet identification and traceability system

The ongoing policy debate in Brussels offers the ideal opportunity to harmonise EU databases for pets to significantly improve animal welfare, traceability and consumer safety

By MSD Animal Health

MSD Animal Health supports the precious bond between people and their pets. It also helps protect international public health, ensure food safety and increase protein supplies.

04 Apr 2024

Pets are an integral part of our lives; in the EU, ownership extends to almost half of all households. Unsurprisingly, cats and dogs - with more than 150 million in the EU – make up a large proportion of these companion animals.

Given how we relate to our cats and dogs, it’s all too easy to think of them as individuals, even as part of the family. However, when you ‘zoom out’ from your own pets and your own home, another picture emerges. The supply of pets is a huge industry. In the EU alone, the trade in dogs and cats is estimated at €1.3 billion, the majority of which – around 60% - takes place online.

A market of this size needs to be regulated closely and effectively, for numerous reasons. Consumers need to be protected from unscrupulous breeders attempting to profit from the market, offering animals that may not have been raised to acceptable welfare standards, and may be dangerous, diseased or even stolen. Clearly, consumer protection is essential, and there must be effective regulation and surveillance to ensure this happens.

Yet there are also wider issues at stake, in the shape of public health concerns and threats to livestock and potentially, therefore, food supplies. In particular, imported animals run the risk of infecting livestock with diseases that are exogenic to Europe. The vast majority of these issues can be controlled and even prevented through a number of feasible measures. These include improved standards for welfare, enhanced traceability, better-regulated import procedures and the capacity for online ID verification.

The technology to make these measures a reality already exists; what is now needed is legislation to make it happen. This is why MSD Animal Health supports the European Commission’s proposed new regulation on the welfare of dogs and cats and their traceability. This sets out to establish uniform standards - for the first time - for breeders and pet shops in how they house and handle dogs and cats. These moves are geared towards improving companion animal welfare in the EU. Importantly, it would ensure that identity traceability applies to all cats and dogs in the EU, irrespective of their circumstances. 

Harmonisation, however, is the key to the success of these measures. The identities must be made available on interoperable databases, allowing authentication and traceability throughout the EU. MSD Animal Health would like to see the measures go further; the interoperable databases should include information on breeders and sellers. Linking the microchip number to a digital passport on the database would be a good step. This way, access to all aspects of wellbeing and health tracking would be together in one place, irrespective of the location of the animal within the EU.

The Commission should therefore prioritise a Delegated Act that establishes a fully harmonised identification and registration system for companion animals. The regulation on the welfare of dogs and cats and their traceability offers the ideal opportunity for such an initiative.