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Food Safety

EU Enforcement Action on illegal trade 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.

Girl holding dog

Unfair commercial practices

pile of money

Tax evasion and undeclared revenues

Dog in a cage

Impact on the health and welfare of pet animals

Dog with vet

Risk for public health

Do you really know where your pet comes from?

In 2021, it was estimated that EU citizens owned 72.7 million dogs and 83.6 million cats. The annual demand across the EU for dogs-only may exceed 8 million animals per year. Although part of this demand is met by licensed breeders as well as by legal importation, an important part of these animals comes from illegal trade and unregistered transportation from non-EU countries.

Additionally, in recent years, pets are increasingly advertised through popular online platforms and social media. Many of these adverts offer animals not from honest breeders but from illegal sources of unacceptable breeding conditions.

Puppy in a cage

Why is it worth to be an aware pet-buyer?

Illegally traded pets are often taken from their mothers too early, without fully developed immune systems. They tend to be transported for long distances in poor conditions and they often die very early. If they arrive at the destination, their health might be compromised, and they are prone to develop behavioural difficulties.

For the new owner it creates emotional distress and economic losses, which adopting families have not foreseen and might not be equipped to deal with. Ultimately, the burden of treatment and care of these animals will fall into the hands of legitimate shelters, further stretching their limited resources.

The main responsible parties identified in cases are breeders, veterinarians, and carriers, who are regularly transporting pets through the borders. Those animals are often unregistered and accompanied by falsified documents: illegally issued EU passports and health certificates, providing false information on the age and origin, or forged rabies anti-body laboratory results. The latter is a concern particularly for animals coming from countries where rabies is still widespread.

How much does it cost us?

It is important to keep in mind that the main economic gain for fraudsters comes from tax evasion (revenue and VAT). The economic activities of the illegal dealers and puppy traders' businesses are not properly declared and create an unfair competition and economic advantage for those selling too young pets and omitting legal sanitary obligations.

A puppy bred in non-EU countries or some EU Member States can be bought cheaper, for approx. 30-50 euros, by a trader who can then resell the animal to a pet shop for 10 times more or ultimately to the final consumer for more than 1000 euros. Considering that 8 million puppies, representing a total value of €1 billion, are estimated to be required annually to satisfy the European market, substantial amounts of revenue can be reclaimed in the EU from puppy traffickers.

EU enforcement action

Following increasing suspicions of fraud in this sector reported by Member States, the European Commission and the EU/EFTA countries have agreed to launch an EU enforcement action to tackle the illegal trade of pets on 1st July 2022.

Diagram showing the  components of the network

The control action is coordinated by the EU Agri-Food Fraud Network and will last until second half of 2023. Its objectives are:

  • Protecting the health of pet animals and public health (rabies, leptospirosis, echinococcosis etc.) by detecting irregularities and falsification of the official documents (passports, rabies test reports and health certificates).
  • Identifying animal trade (commercial movements) disguised as non-commercial movement, both at borders and later within the EU.
  • Deterring fraudsters involved (breeders, transporters, veterinarians, dealers).

The following traceability map shows a cross-border investigation involving EU and non-EU countries. It was created based on intelligence collected from relevant databases (i.e. TRACES), pet microchip registrars and official documents (e.g. health certificates). Presented cases were anonymised.

Diagram to illustrates the complexity of investigations into networks akin to organised crime.

The diagram perfectly illustrates the complexity of investigations into networks akin to organised crime. This is why this operation is joint with police forces within the framework of the EMPACT Envicrime cooperation to fight organised crime at an EU level.

Different elements involved in the illegal pet trade