The Government intends to extned the Pet Travel Scheme to pets entering the UK from the USA and Canada. Their decision will be subject to the satisfactory conclusion of more assessments of the risks of rabies entering the UK through these channels.
The Pet Travel Scheme, popularly known as the 'pet passport' allows cats and dogs to enter the UK from selected rabies-free countries without undergoing six months' quarantine. Pets who qualify under the scheme must undergo a series of tests and treatments.
There has been considerable pressure to extend the Pet Travel Scheme to include the USA and Canada. Although rabies is endemic in the wild animal population in both countries, disease control officials, backed by the US government, have long asserted that vaccination policies have eliminated rabies from the domestic animal population.
The announcement, by Elliot Morley, Minister for Animal Health and Welfare, follows closely an announcement about the development of a Europe-wide pet animal movement initiative, which would eventually lead to harmonisation of pet travel regulations within Europe.
The move towards European harmonisation, which is supported by the UK government, will allow the UK to continue operating the Pet Travel Scheme until at least 2008. The UK's entry requirements for pet animals are amongst the strictest in the world.
About admitting animals from the USA and Canada, Mr Morley commented: "The Government recognises that extending the Scheme could remove a significant barrier for people in the USA and Canada wanting to come to the UK with their pets on holiday, business or even permanently. But before extending the Scheme we must be absolutely sure that doing so would not significantly increase the risk of introducing rabies into the UK."
Mr Morley went on to say that scientific research commissioned by the Government suggested that the risk was manageable, and that DEFRA was " minded to go ahead and extend the Scheme to the USA and Canada".
However, Mr Morley added that there will still some minor points to be cleared up, and until that had happened they weren't prepared to take a final decision. He hoped that the final results of the last studies would be available for a decision this autumn.