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Tuesday, August 3, 1999 Published at 12:55 GMT 13:55 UK

UK Politics

Pets' passport to freedom

At present pets have to stay in quarantine for six months

The UK's quarantine system has embarked upon its most radical shake-up in over a century, as the government announces its abolition for pets entering the UK from rabies-free countries.

The BBC's Margaret Gilmore: "Each pet will be scanned as they enter the UK"
Ministers hope to have a new system in place by April 2001. Initial trial schemes covering western Europe, operating from Heathrow and selected Channel ports, will begin next year.

Under the government's plans, passports will be issued to pets that have been vaccinated against rabies.

Verification of the vaccination will be ensured by a microchip placed just underneath the animals' skin.

The one-year trial will allow pets to travel to western Europe without having to spend six months in quarantine when they return.

A spokesman for the RSPCA, said: "It means pet owners will be able to travel about more freely with their animals, but we will retain a safe and effective protection against rabies."

Preparing pets for travel

Announcing the changes, Agriculture Minister Baroness Hayman said: "The new arrangements will keep Britain fully protected against rabies while letting pet owners take their cat or dog abroad.

[ image: Baroness Hayman: The new scheme will still guard against rabies]
Baroness Hayman: The new scheme will still guard against rabies
"Cat and dog owners can now take steps to prepare for the new pilot scheme that will allow them to travel to and from countries in western Europe.

"Dogs providing assistance to the disabled, including guide and hearing dogs, may be able to travel by air between the UK and Australia and New Zealand.

The minister added: "To qualify pet owners must get their pets microchipped, vaccinate their pets against rabies and ensure their pets have undertaken a blood test from a MAFF-recognised laboratory to confirm that the vaccine has taken."

Quarantine will not disappear

The move has been welcomed by campaigners against the UK's strict quarantine laws.

Sir John Fretwell, from the pressure group Passports for Pets, said scientific advances had allowed the easing of the use of quarantine.

Baroness Hayman talks about the plans for pets
But Baroness Hayman told the BBC that quarantine would not be abolished for those countries still considered a serious risk.

The minister said that quarantine would not "disappear overnight" and that the government would, "make sure that we get smooth running on the initial routes before we look to extending them."

She also said that initial plans limiting the scheme to those pets spending long periods abroad have been scrapped and pet owners will be able to take their animals on day trips.

Baroness Hayman said: "We were convinced that if we got the checks and the systems right then the amount of time that the people were away was not relevant to the health risks."

But although the quarantine industry is likely to suffer from the changes the government has no plans to bring in compensation.

Job loses likely

The chairman of the Quarantine Association, Michael Wickham, fears the loss of several hundred jobs.

[ image: Microchips containing detailed information would sit under an animal's skin]
Microchips containing detailed information would sit under an animal's skin
He told the BBC the move would " just about cut in half " the industry. "A lot of kennels are going to go out of business," he said.

Mr Wickham added it would cost about £10m "to take out the surplus capacity of the quarantine industry as it stands at the moment".

Under the government's plans ferry companies, train operators and airlines would be asked to carry out pre-entry checks on pets, but would not be compelled to carry animals.

But Eurotunnel says it is expecting to take pets on its Channel car service from Folkestone to Calais from next year.

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