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26/06/2024 13:43 | Press release |Welfare of cats and dogs: Council paves the way for first ever EU-wide law

26/06/2024 13:43 | Press release |

Welfare of cats and dogs: Council paves the way for first ever EU-wide law

Today, member states’ EU ambassadors (Coreper) agreed on the Council’s negotiating mandate on a proposal to improve the welfare of cats and dogs by setting minimum EU-wide rules for the first time ever.

Today, the EU shows that also the welfare of animals can be at the forefront of their policy making. Very many Europeans have a big heart for animals and this negotiating mandate clearly shows that. We are now laying a good foundation to further develop an animal policy at European level in the coming years.

Ben Weyts, Vice-Minister-President of Flanders and Minister for Education, Sport, Animal Welfare and the Flemish Periphery

Main elements of the Commission’s proposal

The proposal aims to improve the welfare of cats and dogs that are kept by breeders, selling establishments, and shelters, while also improving consumer protection, ensuring fair competition and fighting illegal trade.

The proposal does not impact individual pet owners. However, anyone who wants to place a cat or a dog on the EU market will have to ensure that it is microchipped for traceability purposes.

The requirements in the proposal are intended as minimum standards to harmonise the EU market. If they wish, member states are allowed to maintain or introduce stricter rules.

Welfare principles

The Council’s negotiating position maintains the main welfare principles proposed by the Commission:

  • breeding is regulated, with limits on frequency, and minimum and maximum age
  • certain breeding practices are prohibited, such as inbreeding (breeding between parents and offspring, between siblings and half siblings, and between grandparents and grandchildren); the Council position clarifies that inbreeding can nevertheless be used to preserve local breeds with a limited genetic pool
  • painful mutilations such as ear cropping, tail docking or the removal of claws are banned, unless they respond to a medical indication
  • enough clean and fresh water, sufficient food and adequate housing conditions must be provided
  • dogs must have daily access to an outdoor area or must be walked daily; the Council clarifies that this applies to dogs older than 12 weeks

Requirements for operators and establishments

The Council has also kept provisions regarding the obligations of operators and establishments:

  • all cats and dogs must be microchipped and registered in a national database before they are sold or donated; all databases will be interoperable with the databases in other EU countries and will be accessible online
  • people taking care of cats or dogs must have a proper understanding of their behaviour and needs
  • establishments must ensure visits from veterinarians; the Council clarifies the conditions for these advisory welfare visits
  • when selling or donating cats or dogs, the person responsible for these animals has to raise awareness about responsible ownership

Main changes introduced by the Council

The Council’s negotiating mandate makes a series of improvements to the proposal to enhance the welfare of cats and dogs:

  • it clarifies that operators must not abandon cats or dogs
  • it bans the breeding of hybrids (the result of crossbreeding with a wild species)
  • female cats and dogs who have had two caesarean sections will not be used for breeding, to protect their health and welfare
  • cats and dogs with extreme traits should be excluded from breeding, to prevent passing these traits on to future generations if there is a high risk of detrimental effects on their welfare or on the welfare of their offspring
  • cats and dogs with extreme conformational traits or mutilations will be excluded from taking part in competitions, shows or exhibitions

Scope of the proposed regulation

Since some organisations, for instance NGOs, use foster homes to house abandoned, stray or unwanted cats and dogs, the Council decided to include foster homes within the scope of the regulation.

Authorisation of breeding establishments

The original Commission proposal required breeding establishments that keep up to three female cats or dogs and that produce in total two litters or less per year to be authorised after an on-site inspection by competent authorities.

Since there are shortages of official veterinarians in the member states and to reduce the administrative burden, the Council has limited this requirement to establishments that produce more than five litters per year or that keep more than five female cats or dogs. Additionally, the Council’s mandate gives member states the possibility to allow establishments to get approval through distance communication.

Imports from outside the EU

In line with the Commission’s proposal, imports will be subject to the same or equivalent standards. This will enhance consumer protection and ensure the traceability of cats and dogs.

The Council’s mandate differentiates between the import of cats and dogs for placing on the EU market and for non-commercial movements, aiming to prevent fraud and improve the traceability of dogs and cats.

For the former, the cat or dog will have to be registered in an EU database five working days after they enter the EU. In the initial proposal this was within 48 hours after arrival at their destination.

For the latter, the Council proposes the creation of a pet travellers’ database. This will allow member states to have an overview of non-commercial imports into the EU and thus be able to detect suspicious movements.

Data protection

The Council also introduced provisions linked to data protection, to ensure the protection of personal data contained, for instance, in the databases of dogs and cats or in information transmitted by establishments.

Next steps

The text agreed today by member states’ EU ambassadors formalises the Council’s negotiating position. Negotiations between the Council presidency and the European Parliament will start once the Parliament has agreed on its position. The outcome of the negotiations will determine the final shape of the legislation.

Background

EU citizens own more than 72 million dogs and more than 83 million cats. The estimated value of cat and dog sales is €1.3 billion annually. 74% of Europeans believe that the welfare of companion animals in their country should be better protected.

Current EU legislation only applies to cats and dogs intended for scientific purposes or transported for commercial purposes or to prevent the spread of rabies and other contagious diseases. Member states’ national rules vary greatly. The proposal aims to ensure minimum harmonised rules throughout the EU and create a level-playing field for all operators.

Moreover, the proposal comes in response to a strong call from EU citizens to improve the animal welfare of their pets, as reported in a special Eurobarometer published in October 2023 on the attitudes of Europeans towards animal welfare.

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