Moving animals across borders Contents


The UK-EU Withdrawal Agreement’s transition period, during which the UK was no longer a member of the EU but remained a member of the single market and customs union, concluded on 1 January 2021. The processes for managing the movement of animals between Great Britain and the European Union that had been relied upon for many years came to an end. This report considers how pets, horses and livestock will now be moved between Great Britain, Northern Ireland, and Europe. It also considers how biosecurity in the UK can be best protected.

Two key themes emerged across these areas. The first is that the Government should adopt a practical and pragmatic approach when it comes to negotiation with the European Union. For many of the issues we consider, including scrapie regulations, the construction of border control posts and an agreement on ‘high health status’ horses, there are obvious and ready solutions that could be put in place if there is political will to do so on both sides. The second is that the introduction of laws and regulations to protect animal welfare is important but ultimately meaningless if they are not enforced. Lack of enforcement is a key factor in pet smuggling and illicit horse movements and must be addressed. Our key findings are as follows;

Moving pets

The Animal Welfare (Kept Animals) Bill will reduce the number of pets that an individual can bring into Great Britain from five to three. This is a positive step, which should help to reduce pet smuggling. However, there is evidence that the current rules are not being enforced at the border making it easy for pets to be illegally brought into the country. Prosecution rates and the sentences for pet smuggling are low, and do not act as an effective deterrent. The Government should increase the sentences given to pet smugglers, including greater consideration of custodial sentences. Increasing prosecution rates must also be a priority, as prosecution rates are proportionately low given the estimated size of the trade. Furthermore, Defra should include a ban on animals younger than six months, heavily pregnant animals, and animals which have been subject to poor welfare practices on the face of the Bill, rather than in secondary legislation. The Bill should also include a clear definition of ‘heavily pregnant’.

A number of non-endemic canine diseases are on the rise in the UK. These pose a serious health risk to the UK pet population. The Government should introduce pre-import screening for non-endemic diseases which threaten the UK pet population. This should be accompanied by the reinstalment of tick and tapeworm treatment requirements and a rabies titre test for pets when they are being brought into the UK.

Moving horses

Britain is a leading player global equestrian market, which provides significant economic benefits to the UK. To protect this industry, the Government should work with the EU to secure an agreement on ‘high health status’ horses to allow for the expedited movement of horses across Europe. There is also evidence that horses are being illicitly moved out of Britain. As a matter of urgency Defra should investigate the scale and causes of these illegal movements. The expedited movement of horses and the prevention of horse smuggling would be supported by the creation of an easy to use, digital-by-design identification system. This should form the basis of the Government’s forthcoming consultation on horse identification.

Moving livestock

There are no border control posts currently approved to accept livestock in European ports. This prevents exports of livestock from Britain from entering mainland Europe. The Government should work with the EU to encourage the opening up of approved border control posts in Europe. Furthermore, the Government should ensure border control posts capable of processing live animals are operational in the UK by March 2022, when animals being imported into the UK will need to be checked at a border control post. This date is a deadline, not a target.

We welcome the ban on export for slaughter and fattening as an important step in protecting animal welfare. However, we are concerned that there may be unintended consequences. Particularly, that it may create longer journeys, which will have an adverse effect on animal welfare. There is a direct link between the Government’s current policy of limiting journey times between the farm and abattoirs, and the need for a network of small and medium abattoirs spread geographically around the UK. Supporting and bolstering the UK abattoirs network will benefit our food security and protect animal welfare. Defra should recognise small and medium abattoirs as a national strategic asset. Defra should also establish a working group to assess how effectively and fairly regulations are being applied in small and medium abattoirs.

Protecting biosecurity

Diseases do not recognise borders. Enhancing biosecurity protects animal, plant and human health. It would be easier to monitor animal diseases in our closest neighbours if the UK regained access to the EU’s Animal Disease Notification System. Regaining access would also benefit our European neighbours at it would allow them to better monitor disease in the UK. The Government should closely monitor veterinary capacity alongside projections of six-month demand and publish statistics on a quarterly basis.

Published: 30 September 2021 Site information    Accessibility statement