Prevent the illegal importation of animals in the EU market
The illegal importation of animals forms a significant threat to the Finnish animal disease situation. Currently, the situation is good, but it is threatened from beyond the national borders by many animal diseases which have not been found in Finland or have been managed to be eradicated through consistent operations. In addition, illegal importation can threaten the health of humans.
For quite some time, the illegal importation of pets from EU countries has been a problem. Furthermore, over the last few years, a few cases of illegal importation of production animals have been revealed, which is an alarming turn of events.
When animals are transferred between EU member states, the consignments are checked upon departure and arrival, not at the borders of other member states. Since there are no customs inspections, illegal imports are only discovered once the animals have already entered the country. However, the lack of customs inspections does not mean that animal importation is unrestricted or that illegal importation is not subject to intervention.
Illegally imported animals are returned or put down
An importer is obligated to ensure that the animals correspond to the import requirements. This involves not only information retrieval, but also being familiar with the matter in good time before the planned importation. The imported animals must be accompanied with health certificates issued by the departure country’s official veterinarian and/or other required documents. It is the importer’s obligation to inspect all import consignments and, if deficiencies are found, the importer is obligated to inform the controlling official veterinarian (municipal veterinarian). In most cases, if import conditions are not fulfilled, the importer is offered an opportunity to complement the required import documents. If this is not possible, the animals are usually returned to the departure country (provided that the officials in the departure country approve the return) or are put down.
In addition, imported animals must be identification-tagged in accordance with the legislation so that their origin can be traced and they correspond to the details in the health certificate. In most cases, the country of origin will not accept a return of production animals if the tagging of the animals is deficient and the origin of the animals cannot be reliably proven. In such a case, the only option is to put down the animals, since Finland does not have an official quarantine facility. In the case of pets, return is more common, although some of these animals also have to be put down. Thanks to improved supervision, in 2005–2010, decisions regarding the return or termination of animals have increased to a notable extent.
In 2010, one minipig and two sheep imported illegally from Estonia and five ponies imported from Sweden were discovered. Based on decisions by municipal veterinarians, all these illegally imported animals were put down, although one of the ponies died of a salmonella infection. The illegal importation of pets (dogs and cats) is common, and, annually, a few dozen illegally imported pets have to either be returned to the departure country or terminated. However, it is likely that the number of illegal imports is much higher.
Illegal importation endangers Finland's excellent animal disease situation
From a European perspective, the animal health situation in Finland remains exceptionally good. This is based on persistent opposition of animal diseases, in which extensive follow-up examinations, effective procedures to eradicate animal disease outbreaks, and producers’ responsible operations with respect to animal importation, for example, have played important roles. However, outside the borders of Finland, a threat is formed by many such diseases which have not been found here or have managed to be eliminated through persistent action. For example, African swine fever has been found in Russia, in the immediate vicinity of the Finnish border.
In addition, production animal species, sheep, goats, poultry (e.g. chicken, ducks, quails, pigeons) and minipigs, are kept as hobby animals and pets to an increasing extent. These animals can carry animal diseases that infect production animals, thus causing massive costs to livelihood. Moreover, the illegal importation of dogs and cats can cause a risk to public health. For example, an animal carrying rabies can transfer this disease to a human by biting, which can be fatal. Although asymptomatic in dogs and cats, in some cases an Echinococcus multilocularis infection in humans can be fatal. Thus, the danger is not only limited to animals.
An animal carrying rabies can be completely asymptomatic even months after import, so only by complying with the import requirements and giving careful consideration to the importation of live animals can the good disease situation in Finland be maintained and people and animals protected.
Importer’s extensive responsibility
While carefully considering the necessity of animal imports, the import requirements should be studied in good time. The best option is to buy animals from Finland. However, if importation is absolutely necessary, countries with the lowest risk such as Sweden and Norway, with a similar animal disease situation to Finland, should be selected. Importation of embryos, semen and ova carries a smaller risk than the importation of live animals.
In the EU’s common market, the importer has an extensive responsibility. In following Evira’s instructions the importer must have all animals entering the country import-inspected and ensure that the animals and documents comply with all legislative demands. The importer must maintain a list of the imported animals. Should any deficiencies be noted or an animal disease suspected, the animals must be quarantined immediately and the local municipal veterinarian contacted. All imported production animals should be inspected by a veterinarian. The importer is liable for any costs caused by the importation. Illegal importation is a punishable act.
Let us know about suspected illegal importation
If you suspect the illegal importation of animals you should inform your local municipal veterinarian or county veterinarian without delay. In addition, even when buying animals in Finland, their origin should be checked. With respect to imported animals, you should verify they have been imported legally and in compliance with Evira’s instructions. Buying animals with an unclear origin is not recommended.