FRIDAY, NOVEMBER 25, 2011: Bermuda is to change its rules on importing animals from the UK in a bid to keep Bermuda rabies-free.

The House of Assembly heard today that Britain is to relax its rules on animal importation to keep in line with European Union policy.

The new UK regulations will allow easier entry of dogs and cats into the UK from EU member states and EU-approved countries, which will affect the UK’s status as one of a handful of countries certified rabies-free.

Environment Minister Marc Bean said that Bermuda at present accepts dogs and cats of any age from the UK without a rabies vaccination, while those from countries where rabies is present require dual rabies jabs and must be at least 10 months old.

But he added: “Government values our rabies-free status as is positively affects how our animals are received by other countries.”

He added that unvaccinated Bermuda pets were accepted for urgent veterinary treatment in the US and Canada because of the country’s rabies-free status.

Mr Bean said that the island’s policy would be reviewed with a view to keeping rabies out of the island, where the large feral cat population could become a host for the disease.

He added policy recommendations on how to change Bermuda’s rules to protect the island were likely to be on his desk within two weeks.

Importation of Dogs and Cats into Bermuda from the United Kingdom

Full speech to the House of Assembly by Environment Minister Marc Bean

Thank you Mr. Speaker,

Mr. Speaker,

I rise today to report to this Honourable House on an issue that has recently been of concern to many Bermudians, the importation of dogs and cats from the United Kingdom.

Mr. Speaker,

From the outset, let me make it absolutely clear.  The Government has not, and I repeat, has not changed its policy regarding the importation of animals from the UK.  Recent changes in the UK have required us to review our policy, but that work is just beginning.  Should a change in our policy be required, I will advise the public in advance of any such change.

Mr. Speaker,

The Government of the United Kingdom has announced that effective 1st January, 2012 it will invoke new regulations that will bring its protocol for the importation of pets into line with that of the European Union. The new regulations will permit easier entry of dogs and cats into the UK from European Union Member States and EU-approved countries from around the world.

This change has implications for Bermuda in terms of how we continue to view animals coming from the UK, and our response to the change can have wide-ranging effects.

Mr. Speaker,

The Agriculture (Control of Animal Diseases) Regulations 1947 recognizes the United Kingdom, Ireland, Australia, New Zealand and Jamaica as being rabies-free because these jurisdictions fulfill the international criteria for that status, including policies to prevent the introduction of the rabies virus. That status gives Bermuda confidence that animals from these areas do not present a rabies risk.

Thus, Bermuda currently accepts dogs and cats of any age from the United Kingdom without requiring any rabies vaccination, and these animals enter Bermuda as young as age three months. In contrast, animals from rabies-infected areas require dual rabies vaccinations and do not qualify for entry before age ten months.

Mr. Speaker,

In our view, the United Kingdom’s new protocol falls far short of the recommended protocol established by the World Organization for Animal Health (OIE). For us, the new protocol raises the question of whether it leads to an unacceptable risk of the rabies virus being exported in animals coming from the UK, given that such animals may have originated in the UK or travelled there from elsewhere. This is an important consideration as we currently receive approximately 200 animals per year from the United Kingdom. Come 1st January, 2012, the UK and Bermuda laws combine to effectively open Bermuda to easily accept animals from 79 other countries.

Mr. Speaker,

The Government of Bermuda recognizes that the changes in the United Kingdom policy represent a paradigm shift in global rabies control; a shift that may be accepted by some jurisdictions, but one that has already been rejected by others. We must now consider our response.

We also recognize the existence of the Schengen Area, a block of 25 European countries that have eliminated internal border controls and checkpoints. Within this Area, people, their pets and belongings move freely without controls.  It is likely that the UK will join the Schengen Area at some point in the future. This raises the question of whether our import rules should be dependent on UK border control policy or whether we take ownership of the problem and impose our own import requirements, independent of the UK’s stance.

Mr. Speaker,

It might be useful for me to clarify why it is important to keep Bermuda rabies-free.  Because the clinical signs of a rabies-infected animal are not unique to that disease, the actual diagnosis may be initially missed by a clinician.  Once confirmed to be present in an animal, all of the persons in contact with the rabid animal would require post-exposure treatment.  In addition, all of the unvaccinated animals would have to be euthanized.

Clearly, Mr. Speaker, we wish to keep Bermuda rabies-free.

Through all of this, we recognize the importance of imported puppies being imported at a young age to permit proper training and socialization, and that the UK is the closest place from which to import a young animal. For your information, Mr. Speaker, dogs and cats imported from the United States and Canada require vaccinations and cannot arrive here before age 10 months.  We recognize that training and socialization have implications for animal control and public safety. But all of this must be weighed against the issue of preventing accidental introduction of the rabies virus.

Mr. Speaker,

Additionally, the Government must be cognizant of the feral cat population, and its close proximity to the human and pet populations. We are appreciative of the work done by the Bermuda Feline Assistance Bureau in curbing the number of feral cats. Notwithstanding their significant efforts, that population still exists. We certainly could not have rabies become endemic in feral cats.

Mr. Speaker,

Government values our ‘rabies-free’ status, as it positively affects how our animals are received by other countries. While a change in our status may not affect most of our travelling animals, there is a segment of our pet population that travels overseas for various urgent veterinary treatments. It was the USA’s recognition of our rabies-free status that allows un-vaccinated animals to travel there for urgent care. So our decisions could impact this privilege.

Mr. Speaker,

The Government of Bermuda is very aware that our pets form an integral part of our families.  Difficult import regulations present a barrier for persons entering with pets, be they visitors, guest workers or returning Bermudian students or families. This consideration does not mean that we must have an ‘open door’ policy for all animals, but it does remind us that the implications of this issue are far ranging.

As we explore the issue and our response to the new UK rules, we must keep our own welfare in mind.  Our policy objectives will include:

  • The prevention of any local incidence of rabies;
  • The prevention of rabies becoming endemic in our feral cat population; and
  • The maintenance of Bermuda’s rabies-free status.

Mr. Speaker,

Leaving our legislation unchanged is not an option, as we will have legislation that is ineffective.  Therefore, some legislative change must occur.  We are currently exploring the following options:

  • To adopt the EU protocol;
  • To hold fast to established OIE protocol;
  • To adopt a compromise protocol;
  • To establish a data-driven protocol irrespective of both the EU and OIE protocols.

We are looking at all of these options, including the risks and implications of each.

Mr. Speaker,

As indicated in my opening comments, our policy on the importation of dogs and cats from the UK has not changed.  However, a change will come.  Following our review and a determination of a policy that is in the best interests of Bermuda, I will announce that policy and will ensure that a smooth transition to our new protocol will be made so that all stakeholders can plan appropriately.  I anticipate receiving policy recommendations within the next two weeks.

Thank you Mr. Speaker.