Given how many animals are sold online, we want Government to introduce regulation of all websites where animals are sold. Websites should be required to verify the identity of all sellers, and for young animals for sale pictures with their parents be posted with all listings.
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Thursday 1st July 2021
The Government shares the public’s high regard for animal welfare. We endorse the Pet Advertising Advisory Group’s work and support their actions to improve the traceability of online vendors.
Under the Animal Welfare (Licensing of Activities Involving Animals) (England) Regulations 2018 (the 2018 Regulations) anyone who sells animals as pets or breeds and sells dogs as a business needs a valid licence from their local authority. Licencees must meet strict statutory minimum welfare standards which are enforced by local authorities who have powers to issue, refuse or revoke licences. Any licensee advertising animals for sale needs to include their licence number and relevant local authority in the advert. In addition, advertisements require the age of the animal for sale to be stated along with a recognisable photograph.
Commercial third-party sales of puppies and kittens were banned in England from 6 April 2020. This prevents pet shops, pet dealers and other commercial outlets from selling these animals in England unless they themselves have bred them. It means anyone looking to get a puppy or kitten must buy direct from a breeder or adopt from a rescue centre. My Department runs a national communications campaign (Petfished) to raise awareness of issues associated with low-welfare and illegal supply of pets. Clear signposting is provided to where responsible breeders and rehoming centres can be found and it encourages prospective buyers to research the seller thoroughly before they visit and decide to purchase. The campaign provides a list of red flags for buyers to look out for when searching for a pet online. The step by step guide on buying a pet includes a reminder to check whether it has been vaccinated and socialised before you take it home.
The Pet Advertising Advisory Group (PAAG) was created in 2001 to combat growing concerns regarding the irresponsible advertising of pets for sale, rehoming and exchange. The Group comprises animal welfare organisations, trade associations and veterinary bodies. PAAG is endorsed by Defra and the UK Government and Devolved Administrations. It has been engaging with online marketplaces in the UK to help them distinguish appropriate adverts from those that should be removed.
Defra has also backed a set of Minimum Standards that PAAG developed which several of the UK’s largest classified websites have agreed to meet. We have been encouraged to see certain online marketplaces adopting initiatives to strengthen personal verification of sellers as a means for improving authenticity and traceability of pet sales online. If anyone has concerns about the welfare of an animal that is sold online they should report the matter to the relevant local authority.
On 12 May the Government published its Action Plan for Animal Welfare - a wide-reaching, ambitious plan setting out current and future animal welfare work. One key reform in the plan is to end the abhorrent, cruel practices of puppy smuggling and low-welfare pet imports. As part of the Action Plan, we are now making some significant changes to domestic law through the recently introduced Animal Welfare (Kept Animals) Bill. The Bill was introduced in Parliament on 8 June. The Animal Welfare (Kept Animals) Bill will deliver our ambitious manifesto commitment to put an end to illegal puppy smuggling. The Bill includes powers to introduce new restrictions on pet travel and the commercial import of pets on welfare grounds, via secondary legislation.
The existing 2018 Regulations prohibit the sale of puppies, kittens, ferrets or rabbits below eight weeks of age. The strict controls that are in situ, help people identify pets offered for sale from unlicensed sellers including those based abroad.
The 2018 Regulations require the sale of a dog to be completed in the presence of the purchaser on the premises where the licensed seller or licensed breeder has been keeping the dog, thereby banning the online completion of sales by licensed sellers and breeders. They also require licensed dog breeders to show puppies alongside their mother before a sale is made. The Government’s Pet Theft Taskforce has been asked to review the situation around pet theft and recommend measures to improve the prevention and prosecution of this crime. The taskforce is already considering the practicality, risks and effectiveness of various proposed measures, such as the regulation of online sales, and will be publishing its recommendations later this summer.
Beyond the remit of trading standards when it comes to acting as a statutory backstop for misleading advertising where cases are referred to it by the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA), the Government does not have a direct role to play in creating new rules relating to online advertising - this would be a matter for the ASA.
Looking ahead we are launching the Online Advertising Programme later this year which will be looking at the regulation of online advertising and whether there is a case for strengthening the regulatory framework around the content and placement of online advertising.
Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs