Smugglers of puppies and other pets should face harsher punishment, including more use of jail sentences, to crack down on the practice, MPs have urged.
Westminster’s Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Efra) Committee warned pet smuggling is viewed as a low risk and high reward crime, with cheaply bought, smuggled dogs fetching hundreds or even thousands of pounds in the UK.
It warned that lack of enforcement was a key factor in the smuggling, as well as illicit horse movements across the border, and must be addressed.
The committee’s chairman, Neil Parish, accused the UK Government of “twiddling its thumbs” while puppies and kittens were being brought in over the borders, risking their welfare and the spread of disease.
The MPs called on ministers to improve the deterrents against pet smuggling, including increasing the penalties given to those found guilty of the offence, with greater consideration of custodial sentences.
Increasing prosecution rates, which are currently low given the estimated size of the trade, should also be a priority, a report from the committee urged.
The MPs welcomed Government moves to ban the import of pets younger than six months old, heavily pregnant pets and those that have been subject to poor animal welfare practices.
But they said the moves should be introduced as primary legislation in the Animal Welfare Bill rather than later though powers the Bill creates, saying it would be a “serious and sincere statement about the value the Government attaches to animal welfare”.
The MPs also called for work to investigate the scale and causes of horse smuggling, and the creation of an easy-to-use digital equine identification system.
The committee welcomed the proposed ban on the export of live animals for slaughter but warned of unintended consequences such as increased travel time to slaughter due to a lack of provision of specialist domestic abattoirs.
Parish said: “While the Government twiddles its thumbs, bad actors are seizing the opportunity to bring animals – including kittens and puppies – over the borders, risking their welfare and the spread of diseases, with little fear of detection or punishment.
“Meanwhile, the systems required to identify equines, which already exist within the industry, have been overlooked, allowing an illegal and cruel trade in horse smuggling to flourish.”
The report also called for a practical and pragmatic approach to negotiating with the European Union on regulations and border controls for exporting livestock and other animals to put solutions in place.
An Environment Department (Defra) spokesperson said: “The Government takes the issue of puppy smuggling, and other illegal importations and low welfare movements of pets, very seriously.
“It is an abhorrent trade which causes suffering to animals and puts the health of pets and people in the UK at risk.
“Our recently introduced Animal Welfare (Kept Animals) Bill commits to tackling unscrupulous traders by reducing the number of dogs that can be moved under the pet travel rules – and we have now launched a consultation on further proposals to crack down on this illegal trade.”