The Animal Protection Agency (APA), a national organisation to fight the trafficking of wild animals for pets, has today announced its broad support of the findings of a Select Committee of MPs who were scrutinising draft legislation including a proposal to lift the ban on UK 'pet fairs'. Effectively outlawed in 1983, reptile and bird fairs, involving wild-caught animals, have reduced in number since a recent crackdown by APA, other animal welfare groups and local authorities. Pet fairs are one or two-day makeshift events, where birds, reptiles and fish are sold to the public. Usually these take place in public halls and agricultural showgrounds.
The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) published its draft 'Animal Welfare Bill' in July 2004 - designed to consolidate and modernise all legislation relating to captive and domestic animals. After reviewing the Bill and consulting with interested parties, the Select Committee highlighted in its report "a significant deficiency in the approach adopted by DEFRA in updating animal welfare legislation." DEFRA was taken to task for presuming that pet fairs should be legalised without first consulting widely on the issue and for launching the consultation with the question of 'how' pet fairs should be regulated without first asking 'whether' they should be legalised!
However, APA is concerned that 'consulting widely' - judging by DEFRA's standards - will again be marred by a glaring conflict of interest within the Department's secretively hand-picked 'Animal Fairs Working Group'. Graham Thurlow, a key civil servant responsible for the Animal Welfare Bill and the proposal to legalise pet fairs, is a self-confessed attendee of illegal pet markets and an exotic bird breeder and keeper. He has declined to answer questions on his personal interest for proposing to lift the ban on wildlife markets. Thurlow's team of seven 'expert' advisors on the working group disturbingly include three organisers or supporters of illegal pet fairs and who have no relevant formal qualifications.
Says Elaine Toland, Director of APA:
"Not only did DEFRA ask a loaded question during its consultation that favoured Thurlow and his so called 'experts' personal interests but key evidence provided to DEFRA showing that pet fairs should not be permitted had been discarded by the largely 'tame' Animal Fairs Working Group. Although the RSPCA was also a member of this group, their recommendations against legalising pet fairs had been overshadowed by those with self- serving interests."
Says Clifford Warwick, Director of the BioVeterinary Group:
"The Select Committee have applied great diligence in their scrutiny of this draft legislation. I can imagine that the revelations about DEFRA's conduct and the evident conflicts between animal welfare and civil servant, Graham Thurlow's and others' vested interests will be far reaching. Animal welfare was given second place to personal interests and gains by Mr Thurlow and some members of the Animal Fairs Working Group. They've been caught out. It's that simple. Mr Thurlow should seriously consider his credibility and position, as should other members of the Group. Perhaps now we can get on with the business of protecting animals from abuse."
APA was also delighted that the Select Committee had recommended against reducing the frequency of pet shop inspections from once annually to once every eighteen months - this would have been a cost-saving measure for pet shops but not in the interests of animal welfare. APA, however believes that further review of this is necessary as current inspection levels are still too infrequent.
For a copy of the campaign report, 'A Licence for Cruelty', or for more information, please contact Elaine Toland on 01273 674253
Issued: December 2004