In the years I have been your MEP representing Wales, I have always been struck by the extent to which people in Wales will go to ensure the wellbeing of animals – whether here or in other parts of the world. The popularity of this year's John Lewis advert with a boxer dog jumping for joy on a trampoline reflects that as much as anything. In fact, Wales’s ownership of both dogs and cats is above the UK average, with 1 in 3 households owning a dog, and one in five a cat.
This was one of the reason why, in my early days as an MEP on the Environment Committee, I was asked to draft legislation on a "Pet Passport". It was clear that when people went on holidays or on visits to other countries, they wanted to be able to take their pets with them. Many would not go outside the UK if they had to arrange care for a pet animal while they were away or put the animal in quarantine on their return.
But of course, any legislation of this nature had to ensure that diseases like rabies were not spread: the reason for quarantine in the first place. We had long debates as to what qualified as a pet, and I had quite a job convincing others that ferrets could be pets! But we got agreement. We drafted a series of safeguards which meant animals could be identified, immunised and their health checked if they were to travel. We tried to ensure that the new law would not be misused by those who would smuggle animals to make money.
So I was as disappointed and dismayed as anyone to discover recently that the illegal smuggling and sale of domestic animals is still a hugely profitable illicit industry. Puppies for example, are often kept in awful conditions and sold under the legal age of 15 weeks old. There are inefficient border checks, meaning that the movement of animals with diseases are not always stopped or monitored, and the penalties are not sufficient to deter this illegal trade.
That is why I have now signed a letter to the European Commission to bring their attention to this, and calling on them to take action and draw up a proper plan to tackle this illegal trade in the EU. This is an issue of animal welfare but it is also one of public health and of consumer protection and of criminality. Whatever new laws we introduce, someone will always find a way of subverting them. In this case it is a tragedy that a law that had all-round benefits for people and for animal welfare should be discredited and undermined in this way.