Breeding of animals is currently not restricted as a whole in our country and in most EU countries. Only the breeding of certain species may be regulated or even prohibited for conservation, health, or other reasons. These are called negative lists, which vary in each country. Therefore, it is valid that any breeder can acquire any animal for their breeding, unless it is listed on the negative list. Animals listed on such a list are prohibited from being bred, reproduced, and sold. Those who acquired an animal before its inclusion on the list can keep the animal until its natural end. This regime also applies in the Czech Republic. Our negative list includes specified invasive species, fur-bearing animals, certain predators, rodents, birds, amphibians, and snakes. Additional specific requirements for their breeding facilities apply to so-called dangerous animals. The inclusion of species on negative lists is always well justified based on expertise.
However, a group of activists from several Western countries is now advocating for the introduction of so-called positive lists that would be uniform throughout the EU. A positive list means that only a few dozen explicitly mentioned "problem-free" species of animals would be allowed for breeding, while the breeding of almost all other species would essentially be prohibited. The proponents of the positive list argue that the list of prohibited animals should be significantly expanded because, in their view, the majority of captive-bred animals suffer. Such a negative list, however, would be very long and administratively demanding. Ensuring compliance with it would be difficult to implement. Therefore, they propose a positive list that would only allow the breeding of explicitly mentioned animals, leaving very few options, and everything else would be prohibited.
If a positive list were introduced, it would apply to every breeder. Only certified zoos and rescue centers would have an exception. With the implementation of a positive list, there would be a risk of banning the breeding of the majority of animal species, and owners of such animals would no longer be able to reproduce, trade, or exhibit them. Essentially, they would be allowed to keep their existing specimens only until their natural end. This step would completely eliminate, for example, all exhibitions and trade shows.
The proponents of the positive list are foreign nonprofit activist organizations. We have information primarily about three of the most active organizations. In 2020, they drafted petitions and appealed to the European Parliament to advocate for the implementation of positive lists.
Eurogroup for Animals from France presented petition number 0697/2020 concerning zoonotic diseases (diseases transmitted from animals to humans) and the regulation of trade in exotic animals for hobby breeding and their possession within the EU. Dyrenes Beskyttelse from Denmark submitted petition number 0744/2020 regarding the need for EU regulation of trade in wild exotic animals for hobby breeding. In petition number 786/2020, the third organization, Animal Advocacy and Protection (AAP) from the Netherlands, demanded the regulation of trade in exotic animals for hobby breeding and their possession by establishing a list of animals permitted for breeding within the EU. These organizations presented a complete proposal for the creation of a pan-European positive list for animals in hobby breeding at a seminar with Members of the European Parliament in Brussels in 2022.
The book by activists, spanning 80 pages, describes the legal aspects of implementing the positive list.
→ An expert analysed their articles on the alleged threat of disease transmission from farmed animals to humans
Animal rights activists from several lobbying organizations aim to promote pan-European positive lists of animals, which would include a limited number of exotic species allowed for hobby breeding, within the European Union. Petr Kodym, the chairman of the Teraristická společnost Praha (Terrarium Society Prague) and a researcher at the National Institute of Public Health, who lectures on epidemiology at the Faculty of Science, Charles University in Prague, analyzed several crucial articles referenced by these activists in advocating for a positive list of animals for hobby breeding. Their main argument revolves around the spread of various zoonotic diseases that could cause a pandemic similar to Covid-19.
"The articles are written with a clear intention to support bans, and the affiliation of the authors indicates the involvement of activist organizations. Even the titles are ominous, as well as the abstracts and keywords used. At first glance, it is apparent that the import and breeding of exotic animals allegedly inevitably lead to the introduction of deadly pathogens, which mass infect humans and cause numerous widespread epidemics of serious life-threatening diseases. The activists' conclusion is that the only way to stop this catastrophe is through strict comprehensive bans on dealing with all exotic animals," states Petr Kodym in his analysis, which the Teraristická společnost Praha utilizes to argue against the nonsensical nature of positive lists of animals during discussions with government authorities and legislators.
The expert particularly quotes from an extensive study titled "Transforming Negatives into Positives for Pet Trade and Keeping: A Review of Positive Lists" published by a group of authors on MDPI.com (Multidisciplinary Digital Publishing Institute) that focuses on the alleged negative impact of exotic pets on human health. "A reader who delves a little deeper into the text will appreciate the very precise mapping of the export and import of animals from various taxonomic groups – what, from where, to where, how much... However, the numbers are not annual but over a period of many years, so they are very high. Sometimes, the authors themselves consider these high numbers as seemingly logical evidence of the introduction of a large number of zoonotic pathogens and the occurrence of countless epidemics, without providing any specific cases," describes Petr Kodym.
In addition to statistics on the export and import of animals, the authors of the study listed the most common diseases of these animals, but without any connection to the mentioned statistics. "For better targeting, some infections (almost all) are labeled as zoonotic. However, they do not take into account the basic rule of pathogen host specificity: 'Those are dog fleas, they don't affect humans!' If one representative of a genus is specific to reptiles and another to humans, it does not mean that there is possible transmission and it is a zoonosis. It is a question of whether it is the authors' lack of expertise or an intentional manipulation of the readers. These articles have no scientific value, and a reputable peer-reviewed journal should never accept them," believes Petr Kodym.
In another article titled "Trading with Deadly Pathogens: Evaluating the Legal Trade of Live Wildlife and Potential Risks to Human Health" published in the journal Global Ecology and Conservation in 2019, according to Petr Kodym, the authors mainly focus on the numbers of animals legally traded over a five-year period and the origins and destinations of these animals. "The numbers are always for a five-year period, so they appear higher," he notes. The text then lists various animal diseases, but according to Kodym, not all of them can be classified as zoonoses, which are diseases transmissible from animals to humans. For example, this includes trichomonads or scabies. "Different species of the same genus that parasitize humans and animals are different. For example, Trichomonas vaginalis from birds cannot be transmitted to humans," Petr Kodym states.
The article further mentions that between 2008 and 2016, a total of 82 zoonoses in mammals, amphibians, birds, and reptiles caused 3,131 cases of illness in 54 countries. "But be careful! These are cases of animal infections. These infections are zoonotic. However, I haven't found in the article any descriptions of cases where these zoonoses were transmitted to humans, so it's 'could be,' but it's not recorded. The only two specific cases are the transmission of monkeypox through prairie dogs to Americans and salmonellosis from water turtles," warns Petr Kodym, who points out that literature since 1945 describes only a minimum number of cases of disease transmission from imported animals to humans, with just 28 scientific articles on this topic. However, the authors of the article attribute this to a lack of interest among experts and consider it a significant problem. The result? Recommendations to ban keeping exotic pets.
"The conclusion? Many animals are imported, and many of them have zoonotic diseases, which could lead to massive transmission of infections with devastating consequences. The fact that there is minimal evidence – case reports – does not mean that the danger is not significant, but rather that nobody has paid enough attention to it," paraphrases Petr Kodym regarding the article's statement. In another text titled "Risky Business: Non-CITES Live Organism Imports into the United Kingdom and the Potential for Infectious Diseases," published by MDPI.com in 2020, the authors provide a detailed overview of the importation of "non-CITES" animals into the UK between 2014 and 2018, but without any mention of how many of these animals were infected with any disease. "Based on these (non)data, they conclude that many different animals are imported, which poses a huge risk of transmitting zoonotic diseases to humans, threatening human health, and the outbreak of epidemics," highlights Petr Kodym.
"The most common are probably salmonella infections transmitted from reptiles (water turtles, iguanas, bearded dragons, snakes, etc.) to children under 5 years old. An important note is the spread of fatal zoonotic bornavirus infection in German tropical squirrel breeding, which was fortunately mapped and brought under control through the rapid intervention of German virologists. Articles analyzing these cases objectively assess the situation, and none of them call for bans," describes Petr Kodym. In this context, the mentioned case of bornavirus infection transmitted by squirrels in Germany is perhaps the most dangerous. Three older breeders from Saxony-Anhalt, aged 63, 62, and 72, who had long been involved in breeding South American variegated squirrels (Sciurus variegatoides), gradually became infected.
"They developed febrile neurological disease (encephalitis), and all succumbed to the illness within 2 to 4 months. Molecular-genetic, immunohistochemical, and histological examinations of patients' brain materials and squirrel tissues revealed an unknown bornavirus, which was named Variegated Squirrel 1 Bornavirus (VSBV-1)," quotes Petr Kodym from one of the articles. This was followed by extensive actions, including mass examinations of squirrels kept in German zoos and private breeders. "The spread of the virus in German breeding facilities was mapped, demonstrating that the bornavirus had been introduced to German squirrels from Prevost's squirrels and spread through animal movements. To bring the disease under control, squirrels need to be examined and infected individuals eliminated," adds Petr Kodym.
The last group of articles, from which activists drew information for their repressive measures targeting breeders, deals with issues related to the presence of antibiotic-resistant bacteria in both captive and wild animals. "Antibiotic-resistant bacteria are found in exotic animals as well as imported tropical aquarium fish, complicating their treatment. The article demonstrates that transmission of antibiotic-resistant bacteria (including MRSA - a fear in operating rooms) can occur between dogs and humans. Resistant bacteria can also escape into the wild, spread over long distances, and pose a hidden threat," describes Petr Kodym. According to him, the cited articles are interesting, but they have no relevance to positive lists.
"The author of the summary study probably needed to write that the import and breeding of exotic animals can cause the spread of antibiotic resistance and supported it with citations from four randomly found articles, which he probably didn't even read," criticizes the expert regarding the activists. However, organizations advocating for the implementation of positive lists for animals in the European Union misuse these "cherry-picked" pieces of information from both scientific and less scientific texts when negotiating with policymakers, creating the impression that captive exotic animals pose significant health risks. Meanwhile, for example, the European Union already banned the importation of wild-caught birds back in 2004, and bird trade among breeders exclusively involves birds bred in captivity.
Some EU countries already have positive lists, although they vary in each country. These countries include Lithuania, Italy, France, Cyprus, Luxembourg, Belgium, the Netherlands, Malta, and Slovenia. Norway, although not an EU member, also has such a list. Other countries are preparing their own positive lists, including Germany, Austria, Spain, Ireland, Finland, Sweden, Denmark, Estonia, and Croatia.
Jan Potůček extensively addresses this issue on the website: www.ararauna.cz.
Several other EU countries support the creation of an EU-wide positive list. However, it should be added that these are countries where the breeding industry is at a completely different, undeveloped level, so that almost no one would be affected by a possible ban on breeding.
In May 2022, activists advocating for the introduction of positive lists succeeded in convincing four EU member states - Cyprus, Lithuania, Luxembourg, and Malta - to present a document at the EU Agriculture and Fisheries Council meeting, calling for the implementation of positive lists (referred to as "PS") across the entire EU. An additional 14 member states supported the document at the meeting. The EU Council then tasked the European Commission with addressing the issue of positive lists.
In response, the European Commission adopted the revised CITES Action Plan, approved in November 2022. This binding document instructs the European Commission to "explore the need, added value, and feasibility of revising existing measures or creating new tools to restrict unsustainable trade in wild and feral species (such as a 'positive list' of species that can be traded and owned as pets, trade in all wild and feral species from illegal sources to be considered a criminal offense, or requiring the registration of all animals and plants imported into the EU)."
The European Commission decided to address this task by launching a pan-European project that would assess opinions on the necessity of a pan-European positive list of animals in all EU member states. If this project demonstrates the need for a positive list, the European Commission will have to further consider and implement the proposal for the introduction of a positive list.
The European Commission plans to announce this project in the coming months. In advance, it has already requested contact lists from EU member states, including authorities, breeders, and their organizations and representatives. In the Czech Republic, the Ministry of the Environment will be the main partner in the project. In May 2023, the Ministry, in mutual agreement with breeders, submitted a contact list to the European Commission, which includes representation from all significant breeding organizations in the country.
Independent of the above events, the European Parliament adopted a resolution on November 24, 2022, titled "Improving EU legislation regarding free-living and exotic animals kept as pets in the European Union through a positive EU list (2022/2809(RSP))." This resolution, also supported by several EU member states, contains similar formulations and arguments as the EU Council document. Both documents evidently have the backing of the same international activist organizations. However, the European Parliament's resolution is only advisory, whereas the aforementioned Action Plan approved by the EU Council is binding.
Due to historical circumstances, especially the inability to travel between 1948-1989, the Czech Republic became a breeding powerhouse. After the dissolution of the National Front, which previously more or less obligatorily united the majority of breeders, we currently have no record of their number. Based on available data, literature, and attendance at trade fairs, it is estimated that tens of thousands to hundreds of thousands of people in the Czech Republic are involved in hobby breeding (excluding dog, cat, guinea pig, and hamster breeding). The extremely limited possibility of importing animals from the wild in the past led to successful breeding of hundreds of exotic species, which, in turn, had very positive impacts on biodiversity in their countries of origin – there is little demand for wildlife. The issue of importing and trading animals from the wild is regulated by the long-term application of CITES regulations at the EU level. Control and enforcement of CITES regulations in the Czech Republic are at a high level; although violations occur, they mainly concern the smuggling of derivatives used in traditional Chinese medicine or ivory, rather than the import of breeding animals. The Ministry of Agriculture's welfare regulations are strict, and their implementation is regularly monitored, whether it concerns so-called dangerous animals or the conditions of breeding (prescribed dimensions and conditions of facilities for various species). There is no risk of introducing invasive species in our climatic conditions. The argument that breeding animals pose a risk of transmitting zoonoses to humans is completely untrue. The proven carriers of zoonoses in the Czech Republic are only cats and dogs, and among birds, the risk species are wild birds (although transmission of avian influenza from the wild to humans has never been documented). Despite the extensive scale of breeding in the country, no transmission of zoonoses from breeding animals has been recorded. Finally, the activists' concluding argument, suggesting that approving positive lists and reducing the number of permitted species to a minimum would significantly reduce the workload of officials, is rather amusing: its fallacy was convincingly demonstrated a century ago during the introduction of prohibition in the United States – the transition of sellers and consumers into illegality did not actually reduce the workload of authorities.
→ In conclusion, we are convinced that the issue of positive lists is an entirely artificial problem created by activists out of emotional motives. It concerns only a few or even none of the majority of member states. The current EU legal regulations are more than sufficient, and the problem may lie in the implementation (or lack thereof) in some countries. Some countries are likely supporting positive lists to mask their failure to fulfill their obligations in other areas (with proven negative impacts on biodiversity).
→ Therefore, due to the specific nature of the situation in each member state resulting from historical and cultural reasons, where EU and national regulations are genuinely adhered to, the alleged problems described by activists do not arise, and positive lists at the EU level have no justification. The current "negative" approach, where the breeding of certain species outside of zoos is regulated or even completely banned, is entirely adequate.
The issue of animal breeding falls within the jurisdiction of two ministries. The Ministry of Agriculture is responsible for welfare, veterinary care, animal protection against cruelty, and the registration of dangerous animal breeds. The Ministry of the Environment is responsible for the import and trade of endangered species and the implementation of EU regulations on bans related to invasive species. As the issue of positive lists has now come under the purview of the CITES department of the European Commission, which is part of the Directorate-General for the Environment, the Ministry of the Environment is now the national partner of the European Commission.
In April and May 2023, representatives of breeders held discussions with both ministries. Their representatives confirmed that they do not consider positive lists necessary. According to them, the existing legislation at both the Czech and EU levels is entirely sufficient, and they will not support any blanket bans. They will convey this position in international negotiations as well.
Please familiarize yourself with the information provided above and read the condensed response to the introduction of positive lists in the attached "rejecting statement."
If you disagree with the implementation of positive lists, express your disagreement by signing the attached signature sheet.
The results of this signature campaign will be presented to the authors of the pan-European study in the autumn as evidence that positive lists receive a "red light" in the Czech Republic.
We hereby call on all breeders' organizations, zoos, rescue centers, exhibition and trade fair organizers, organizers of bird breeders' meetings, and other social events related to breeding, as well as individuals who wish to join this campaign and help gather signatures for the rejecting statement, to download the necessary documents from the download category and contribute to what we believe is a worthy cause.