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Food Safety

EU Enforcement Action on illegal trade of cats and dogs

About the illegal movement of cats and dogs

The illegal movement of cats and dogs not only impacts the health and welfare of pet animals and public health, but also affects consumers and causes economic damage in tax evasion and undeclared revenues.

Today, 44 % of households in the EU keeps a companion animal. The keeping, breeding and sales of cats and dogs in the EU represent a major, lucrative economic activity with an estimated annual value of EUR 1,3 billion.

The annual demand across the EU for dogs-only may exceed eight million animals per year. Although part of this demand is met by licensed breeders as well as by legal importation, another unfortunately is covered by the illegal trade of companion animals

About the EU enforcement action

The EU enforcement action ran for a year. It was initiated and coordinated by the Directorate-General for Health and Food Safety (DG SANTE) of the European Commission, for the EU Agri-Food Fraud Network. The action was also supported by the Commission's Directorate-General for Taxation and Customs Union (DG TAXUD and EU non-governmental organisations (NGOs) and involved also EUROPOL notably through its European Multidisciplinary Platform Against Criminal Threats (EMPACT Envicrime).

Findings of the EU enforcement action

467 fraud suspicions were exchanged within the Rapid Alert System for Food and Feed (via its IT platform iRASFF), seeking assistance on document forgeries (passports, health certificates, rabies titration results) and on misleading information about the age, origin, or vaccination status of dogs or cats.

From individual notifications, DG SANTE identified recurrent trends and recurrent operators and shared back this information to support investigations. 47 judicial proceedings were initiated during the action.

Major routes for fraud concern road transports from Romania, Hungary and Poland to Germany, from Serbia to Slovenia, from Russia and Belarus to Poland and Latvia, and air transport from Türkiye to the Netherlands and Austria.

The action confirmed that a significant number of traders abuse the EU legislation on non-commercial transport of animals to disguise their real commercial activities and seek advantages from limited controls and tax elusion. Some shelters or animal welfare associations were also found abusing their status to illegally breed or trade dogs through online advertisements and sales. Many occurrences of forged or incomplete official documents, fake or incorrect rabies vaccination information and of animals being sold while underage were noticed.

Vulnerability scheme for illegal trade of cats and dogs

Vulnerability scheme for illegal trade of cats and dogs

Outcomes and way forward

Addressing frauds on the illegal trade of pets requires a comprehensive approach. The following course of action could be considered:

  1. Reminding operators about their legal obligations;
  2. Maintaining, extending and targeting controls on pets’ supply chains. The development of artificial intelligence to support investigations in European Commission databases such as iRASFF, and continued collaboration with relevant NGOs would contribute to more focused controls and thus more efficient use of resources;
  3. Maintaining cross-sectoral collaboration and exchanges between law enforcement authorities, customs and veterinary authorities to identify risky origins and suspicious operators when they cross borders;
  4. Raising awareness of judicial authorities on the dimension of the fraud affecting the trade of pets for applying effective, proportionate and dissuasive penalties to discourage unlawful operators and stopping distortion of competition against fair breeders;
  5. Empowering consumers to make informed choices when adopting or buying pet animals;
  6. Revising the EU legal framework if and as necessary to address possible loopholes.

Further information

Questions and answers surrounding illegal trade of cats and dogs

Download the Q&As in PDF format