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OUR CATS COMMENT:
DEFRA AND RABIES IMPORT POLICIES


BACK IN 2005 DEFRA began a review of the policies that aimed to prevent rabies entering the UK through an imported animal. The exercise was carried out before the European Union (EU) reviewed some of the requirements of its pet movement regulation, due to come into effect from 2008.

DEFRA expected the EU review to challenge a derogation used by the UK to require animals entering the country under the UK’s own Pet Travel Scheme

(PETS) to have been blood tested to ensure an adequate response to rabies vaccination and to have been treated for ticks and tapeworms. The laudable aim of DEFRA’s review was to ensure that UK rabies controls were proportionate and sustainable, and to inform the UK’s response to the EU’s review.

Announcing a consultation on the current arrangements and possible future options for rabies import control-measures on November 17th 2005, DEFRA said that it believed the time was right for an evidence-based review of rabies disease control import policies.

This since PETS has allowed eligible dogs and cats to enter the UK without the need for a period of quarantine and since 2004 the UK’s pet import policy has complied with the European pet movement regulation.

The DEFRA review set out to assess the risk of the introduction of rabies and other exotic diseases into the UK under current rabies policies and under alternative policies.

DEFRA said that decisions on future rabies policy would be based on a veterinary risk assessment that had been independently ‘peer reviewed’.

The import requirements for rabies-susceptible mammals was also to be considered. This included pets, commercially traded animals, and animals imported into commercial establishments such as zoos.

The review, it said, then would take account of a number of factors, namely:

i) Available evidence relating to the risk of introducing rabies into the UK through an imported animal;

ii) The risk of introducing diseases and zoonoses through an imported animal;

iii) The practical aspects of implementing and operating current
policies and alternatives;

iv) The costs and benefits of current policies and alternatives; and
v) The way in which other parts of Europe addressed the risk of rabies and other exotic diseases entering their territories.

Referring to the EU’s own review, which was due before February 2007, DEFRA noted that a number of countries - the UK, Ireland, Sweden and Malta - retain pre-entry measures for animals such as blood testing and anti-parasite treatments, under special derogation.

High Risk

DEFRA hoped back in 2005 that the results of its own review would allow it to present its position to the EU effectively, warning that it may be possible, from 2008, that the UK would not be able to retain its checking arrangements, blood testing and anti-parasite treatments. DEFRA said at the time: ‘Potential EU-driven changes would make it much easier for animals from “high-risk” third countries to enter the UK without quarantine.’

Comments for the whole consultation process were invited by February 9th, 2006 and since then the wheels have ground steadily and slowly. OUR CATS has learned that DEFRA has commissioned research into risk analysis surrounding rabies, tick and tapeworm treatment and the possible import of other exotic diseases.

It is to be hoped that the rabies risk assessment focused on the necessity for blood sampling and the length of the waiting or ‘quarantine’ period.

Figures from government sources suggest that vaccine failure rates are very low - less than 5% - so these remain very effective. But like any chain it is only as strong as its weakest link and some experts have felt that it would perhaps be prudent for blood sampling to be retained.

Depending on evidence regarding incubation periods, it may be acceptable to reduce the waiting period and quarantine down to three months from the present six months. Any cat fancier who wishes to import stock or exhibit abroad can see that if blood sampling is retained such a reduction in quarantine time is likely to be an attractive option.

DEFRA and its predecessor MAFF were always given to a ‘belt and braces’ approach. Global warming or hotter summers apart, the prevention of the import of tick-borne exotic disease should remain a priority. With this in mind, maybe tick and tapeworm treatments should remain in place. Whatever happens, the changes are due to come to the table soon for
implementation in 2008.

OUR CATS can only hope that common sense will prevail and that all interested parties who have been approached on this important subject will have been open and honest as the free movement of cats and dogs between the UK and the continent becomes a regular part of everyone’s life.