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Pet travel: the derogation

by
01 April 2009, at 12:00am

Maggie Fisher reports on the latest developments on the retention of measures to protect the UK's borders from exotic diseases.

Back in September last year, parasitologists at the European Scientific Counsel for Companion Animal Parasites (ESCCAP) meeting were warned that the fight was on if the UK was to keep the Pet Travel Scheme (PETS) in place.

 The EU Commission expressed a desire to bring the UK in line with the rest of Europe, when a derogation – which allows stricter border controls under the PETS scheme – comes to an end on 30th June, 2010.

 However, ESCCAP UK, along with other veterinary associations, has worked hard to open a dialogue and lobby the government in support of keeping the derogation in place. Responsible for taking the case to the EU Commission is Maggie Tomlinson, head of Emerging Infections and Zoonoses, Infectious Diseases and Blood Policy at the Department of Health.

 At the ESCCAP meeting she warned: “I can categorically say that the Government is not keen for us to keep the derogation and it’s going to be a very hard fight to keep our border controls in place.”

Growing support

 Since the meeting, however, there has been a growing body of support for the derogation. Maggie Tomlinson added: “DEFRA, the Department of Health ministers, the chief medical officer, the chief veterinary officer and other senior officials have lobbied their Commission counterparts and we are cautiously optimistic about their assurances to consider our evidence and arguments for our continued controls, i.e. to continue with our full controls under the UK PETS scheme.

 “We will continue to work closely with the Commission and we have put forward a strong case for on-going protection of the UK against incursion of rabies and vector-borne infections that travelling pets could bring to UK shores. We have reinforced the point that our current controls safeguard us and we await news from the Commission as to its proposals for the future.” 

She added that any controls must be riskbased as there are currently variations across the EU in terms of risk from rabies, tick and tapeworm infections. “We have indicated our willingness to explore with the Commission risk-based alternatives to the current regimes that might be acceptable to the UK in the longer term, and an extension of our current derogation would allow time for such alternatives to be explored. “Ireland, Finland, Sweden and Malta also have derogations in place and have indicated that they too will be seeking to retain them and we are working in concert with them on this issue.” 

The PETS scheme today

 Since the introduction of PETS in February 2000, over 571,000 cats, dogs and ferrets have entered the UK under the scheme. In the past year alone, 98,737 dogs and 10,700 cats have arrived in the UK.

 Rabies remains the only notifiable disease; other vector-borne infectious diseases such as leishmaniasis, babesiosis, ehrlichiosis and dirofilariasis are monitored by the Dog and Cat Travel and Risk Information scheme (DACTARI), a voluntary reporting system for veterinary surgeons run by DEFRA.

 There is a real concern, however, that the DACTARI figures demonstrate a mere fraction of the true incidence of exotic diseases. Dr Sue Shaw, of Acarus Laboratory at Bristol University, said: “From 2005 to 2007 we recorded 257 cases of leishmaniasis. We are dealing with a relatively higher number of cases. I would be very concerned if we are making decisions for the UK based on the DACTARI figures.” 

At the recent BVA dinner in London, the president, Nicky Paull, made specific reference to the pet travel situation. She said: “Professor Gibbs, a Bristol veterinary school graduate, quoted some truly frightening statistics in his lecture entitled ‘No longer an island – disease challenges in a shrinking world’. He explained that 75% of emerging diseases were zoonotic, that viruses were the most common and that 60% of pathogens were zoonotic.” 

She continued: “The BVA is in no doubt that the derogation is a vital tool in balancing the free movement of animals against the public health risks associated with the importation of serious zoonotic diseases, such as Echinococcus multilocularis and rabies.

 “However, even given limited surveillance data, it is also patently clear that this rise in pet animal movements is leading to an increase in the incidence of animal disease, such as leishmaniasis and babesiosis here in the UK.

 “It is for this reason, as DEFRA ministers and officials will be well aware, that we are currently lobbying for both the voluntary DACTARI scheme to be made mandatory and for the transitional arrangements to be made permanent.” 

Full support 

ESCCAP is in full support of the retention of the derogation, but the Counsel’s research supports the view that even with the PETS scheme in place, exotic diseases in the UK will continue to grow in number if preventive measures are not taken seriously by vets and pet owners alike.

 In addition to the need to keep the derogation in place, owners need to be made aware of the dangers of taking their pets abroad. Although the current PETS system addresses rabies and the risk of bringing some parasites back into the country, it does nothing to protect the animal while it is abroad.

 Therefore, although the pet may not come back with any ticks, it is not to say that it won’t come back with a tickborne disease.

 ESCCAP is working hard to research the changing picture of parasites and infectious diseases in the EU and raise awareness of the problems we face.

Discussion forum

 The BSAVA is holding a “PETS or pests?” discussion forum on balancing pet travel and disease control at its congress early this month (at 10.30am on Friday 3rd April in Austin Court, between the ICC and NIA) which ESCCAP will attend. This event will no doubt continue the dialogue on the future of our borders.