Euro rules 'could outlaw 40 dog breeds'
The Scotsman has learned that ministers in Edinburgh and London are preparing to ratify a controversial Europe-wide treaty that could set strict limits on the breeding and handling of animals.
The European Convention on the Protection of Pet Animals is enthusiastically supported by animal-welfare groups, and rejected by dog breeders, who say it would impose a "sweeping" curb on their activities.
After years of prevarication and hesitation, private talks have been taking place between the Scottish Executive and the Department for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) aimed at ratifying the treaty. Because animal welfare is devolved, Scottish ministers must agree before the UK can sign up to the accord.
The convention states that animal breeders must be held accountable for any "anatomical, physiological and behavioural characteristics which are likely to put at risk the health and welfare of either the offspring or the female parent".
Annexes to the document set down precise limits on physical characteristics like the length of a dog's back relative to its legs, the length of its ears and the dimensions of its head and nose.
Dog breeders fear that the treaty's terms are so broad that it would effectively forbid the breeding of distinctive types of dog because their defining characteristics could be seen as risking their welfare.
According to the Scottish Kennel Club, ratifying the treaty would mean that anywhere between 30 and 40 breeds would effectively be outlawed. Some distinctive breeds of cat including the Siamese and Persian could also be affected.
"Many breeds would have so many restrictions put on them that they would effectively cease to exist," said Jean Fairlie, parliamentary liaison officer for the Scottish Kennel Club.
"The convention is too broad, too sweeping - it fails to take account of scientific developments, and the work the Kennel Club and breeders have done since it was drawn up to eliminate some mutations and health problems while maintaining the consistency of the breeds."
Among the convention's most enthusiastic supporters is Advocates for Animals, an Edinburgh-based campaign group.
"Pedigree dogs are bred for their appearance rather than for their good health, which often suffers as a result. They are being 'designed' to conform to ideal 'breed standards' which often involve exaggerated and unnatural physical characteristics that are detrimental to the dogs' health and welfare," said Ross Minnett, the group's director.
Ratifying the convention would "substantially modify extreme breed standards and limit the degree to which pedigree dogs are bred to be intentionally deformed in a quest to produce 'the perfect dog'," he said. "But any claims that this convention would lead to the end of pedigree breeds are scaremongering nonsense."
Beverley Cuddy, the editor of Dogs Today magazine, said she thought breeders were exaggerating the impact ratification would have. "All it means is that breeders would have to put the health of the dogs first instead of their appearance," she said.
"The Kennel Clubs say they're setting up new rules and breed standards that mean [ratification] wouldn't be needed, but it's too little, too late - judges at shows are still rewarding breeders for producing animals with unhealthy features - bulldogs with bigger heads, things like that."
A DEFRA spokesman confirmed that ministers were "working with the devolved administrations to identify the implications of the convention, were the government to sign it".