Animal Aid

An Enforcement Nightmare : A summary of the case against the legalisation, through a new Animal Welfare Bill, of exotic pet markets

In the 1980's, the sale of pets in public places such as markets was once an occasional and lamentable component of an already largely inhumane exotic pet industry.

The Pet Animals Act (1951) was amended in 1983 to outlaw the sale of pets in public places (which include markets) following the discovery of inherent animal abuse and trauma. This '1983 amendment' states: 'If any person carries on a business of selling animals as pets in any part of a street or public place, or at a stall or barrow in a market, he shall be guilty of an offence.'

Pet market

In the early 1990s, exotic pet markets resurfaced and increased significantly in number. However, generally speaking, it was not until the late 1990s that local authorities started to make regular use of the modified Act and commence prohibiting pet markets. Numerous court rulings and detailed legal appraisals have substantiated the validity in law as well as the pragmatism of the pet market ban. This subsequent and ongoing prohibition of pet markets by almost all local authorities has prevented animal suffering and illegal trafficking of wildlife and also probably protected the public from serious infectious animal-based disease.

The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) plans to introduce a new Animal Welfare Bill that will attempt to consolidate and modernise current legislation relating to the welfare of farmed, domestic and captive animals. In a series of consultation meetings in 2003, DEFRA made clear its intention to legalise all trading in pet animals (including itinerant trading) - this to be 'regulated' by a licensing system. Such a development would be contrary to all experienced independent scientific and legal advice, as well as some of the government's own legal and ministerial guidance.

DEFRA's proposed action would mean that pet animals would again be sold legally in markets and public places. Any licensing (legalisation) of pet markets would create major new problems whilst failing to solve present problems. Licensing would:

Parrots packed for export
  1. Place an unmanageable burden of enforcement on local authorities
  2. Incur a huge increase in the cost of effectively policing sales
  3. Massively weaken the current animal welfare standards of the Pet Animals Act 1951/83
  4. Increase threats to public health
  5. Increase opportunities for the spread of disease amongst pet animals
  6. Offer a rich, disturbing and uncontrollable reservoir of infection with the potential to repeat numerous new foot-and-mouth scale epidemics in the UK
  7. Cause an increase in the trafficking of illegal and endangered species
  8. Increase the opportunities for release of non-native species into the environment

Disturbingly, DEFRA admits that some of its key officials who are responsible for advising ministers on pet markets under the proposed legislation are themselves exotic pet hobbyists and privately attend currently illegal pet markets for their own leisure purposes - where rogue councils allow unlawful events. DEFRA ministers and others may be unaware that some of their officials have vested interests in pet groups, and this issue is currently being investigated by Animal Aid.

Parrots on sale at the bird market

This is a summary of An Enforcement Nightmare - click here to read the full report.

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