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Luxembourg, 27 June 2002

Have pets, will travel restrictions eased on the movement of domestic pets within the European Union

A new system approved today by the Council of EU Agriculture Ministers paves the way for pet owners to travel more easily within the European Union with their domestic pets.

Welcoming the Council's common position, David Byrne, the Commissioner for Health and Consumer Protection said: "This is excellent news for pet owners like myself. Today marks a significant step towards harmonisation of the rules governing the movement of pets within the EU."

He continued: "This has been made possible by the dramatic progress achieved as a result of our ongoing campaign to stamp out rabies in those regions of the Union where it has been endemic. Without wishing to tempt fate, we can reasonably expect the Union to become rabies-free in the foreseeable future. Today's agreement makes provision for a future re-assessment of the situation in the light of experience and after consulting the experts, which I hope will enable further harmonisation of the pet movement rules."

Cats and dogs travelling within the EU

For movements of pets between Member States other than Ireland, Sweden and the United Kingdom, rabies vaccination will be the sole requirement for travel across borders. An electronic microchip or a tattoo will allow the vaccination status of the pet. Additionally, an EU- passport will be given to each pet to be checked. Young pets which cannot be vaccinated yet, will be allowed to travel without vaccination. The same rule will apply to neighbouring third countries where the rabies status matches that of the EU e.g. Switzerland or Norway. For the entry of animals into Ireland, Sweden or the United Kingdom, antibody titration(1) will need to be carried out after the vaccination.

Cats and dogs travelling from third countries

Today's agreement also reinforces the strict rules applying to cats and dogs entering the EU from third countries, to guard against the risk of rabies. For countries where rabies is endemic, testing three months before movement will be required for entry into Member States other than Ireland, Sweden and the United Kingdom where quarantine will be maintained in the case of direct movement. In the case of third countries free of rabies (or where the disease is under control) vaccination will be the only requirement (except for Ireland, Sweden and the United Kingdom where a 6 months test will be required).

Full harmonisation of the pet movement rules is not yet within our grasp. A five-year transitional period will apply to Ireland, Sweden and the United Kingdom, after which new proposals will be made in the light of experience of the new system, the rabies status of the EU at that time and expert scientific advice.

Progress in this sensitive area has been very difficult in the past. The background to today's breakthrough stems from the spectacular success over the past decade of efforts to eradicate rabies within the Union. Vaccination programmes for foxes in regions where the disease still occurred have led to a drop in rabies cases among household pets: from 499 in 1991 to 5 in 1998 and 3 in 2000. The fight against rabies must continue to stamp it out and keep it out.

The regulation can enter into force after final approval of the European Parliament.

(1) a test to see if the vaccine has been effective

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