21 April 2021 – Global animal welfare organisation FOUR PAWS considers the new EU Animal Health Law (AHL) a significant first step towards greater traceability and accountability of dog breeders and sellers, but far from a solution to once and for all end the illegal puppy trade across Europe. The new law is designed to protect against transmissible animal diseases that can also present risks for human health. However stricter traceability measures are urgently needed. With the AHL in force, puppy dealers could struggle to continue their illegal operations as people involved in breeding or selling of puppies are required to be registered with their national governments. But in order to combat the illegal puppy trade effectively, FOUR PAWS urges the EU authorities to tackle potential loopholes and establish EU-wide mandatory pet registration.
In the illegal puppy trade, puppies are taken from their mothers while still too young and illegally transported across Europe, mostly from Eastern European puppy farms. The AHL will enable far greater transparency of the trade in puppies – improving animal welfare by requiring all sellers, breeders, transporters and assembly centres of dogs and cats to register with the respective national government. “The rules for breeders and sellers under the Animal Health Law on their own cannot regulate the increasing online puppy trade. The European Commission must additionally require EU-wide identification and registration of companion animals in connected databases. This leads to effective pet traceability and accountability across all Member States and supports the efforts of the authorities in enforcing national and EU laws,” says Joanna Randall, Head of Companion Animal Campaigns at FOUR PAWS.
The FOUR PAWS model solution
To tackle the illicit trade on online marketplaces, FOUR PAWS is proposing a model solution building on pet and breeder registration. “Anyone in the EU breeding or selling puppies should be registered with their governments, from the very first animal bred or given away. Breeder registration numbers should be included in national pet registries to guarantee full traceability of each animal’s origins. This, along with the introduction of EU-wide mandatory pet registration, can stop illegal puppy dealers,” says Randall. FOUR PAWS is collaborating with Europetnet, a centralised European reference registry covering more than 50 percent of pet registration databases, to provide a tool for increased controls on classified ad sites. Together they have developed ‘Europetnet’s PetSAFE’ system. The system blocks anonymous dealers and unregistered, untraceable pets from the market. Moreover, it enables online marketplaces to differentiate between private and commercial operations and spares consumers the painful experience of purchasing a sick or dying puppy from unknown origins. Ireland is currently the first country in Europe to implement the new security tool on selected platforms.
Growing demand for cheap puppies
The growing demand for purebred puppies in Western Europe, especially during the COVID-19 pandemic, has led to breeding establishments increasing production and puppy farms being set up in countries such as Poland, Hungary, the Czech Republic, Slovakia, and Romania. These producers primarily supply puppy dealers. Puppies are bred at the lowest possible cost and kept in deplorable conditions. They are often sick and unvaccinated, and have forged or non-existent identification and vaccination documents, posing considerable risk to both human and animal health. Preventable animal diseases, such as rabies, ringworms or parasites, are zoonotic and can also be transmitted to humans. Due to the increasing demand and cheap costs, the profit margins are extremely high, and the risk of being caught is low.