UK Animal Disease Control Regime To Stay...For Now

10 March 2010
Alyn Smith MEP has welcomed a vote today (Tuesday) to keep strict controls on foreign animals entering the UK and Scotland, though he urged continued vigilance against an ongoing drift towards harmonising animal control standards across the EU.

MEPs in Strasbourg voted, by a massive majority, to continue the opt out from the harmonisation of the animal control regime across the EU. This allows five states to continue their stricter anti-disease measures for animals entering their country: specifically the system of pet passports and compulsory worming of imported animals.

The derogation had been about to expire as part of that ongoing harmonisation. There are safeguards against any eventual harmonisation, in that the UK may not have to drop its stricter rules unless independent studies show that the risk from rabies is "negligible" - and it is currently classed as "non-negligible". Smith, however, wants to see the derogation made permanent.

Smith said:

"Disease control is a crucial issue that people only pay attention to when it goes wrong, and any farmer knows how grave the consequences of it going wrong could be. For MEPs to have secured the right to continue to police our own borders is actually quite a result today.

"Scotland and the UK are a series of islands so we have a natural barrier to animal disease, and the laws should reflect that. I'm concerned that the attitude from some in Brussels is that we should continue to justify our rules, when the reverse is true, they should have to justify any attempts to harmonise! Even the Parliament's press service ominously described the right to police our own borders as "temporary".

"We must, and we will, retain maximum national sovereignty on this issue. Nations have a fundamental right to control their own borders to prevent the transmission of diseases through animals. The Scottish and UK system of pet passports and compulsory worming of animals is sound, strict and must be maintained. It is backed by medical and veterinary opinion, so to reduce these standards for the cause of EU harmonisation is flat wrong, particularly with regard to the potentially lethal diseases spread by ticks.

"Fortunately this was not proposed today, but to even see it on the agenda reminds us that we need to keep an eye on it.We have seen to our cost what sort of outcomes complacency delivers."