Published: 00:00, 16 April 2003
FERRETS, rabbits and guinea pigs will be among the animals which will be able to travel freely through the Port of Dover after Euro-MPs voted to give them their own passports.
This gives them the same right to roam across Europe enjoyed by cats and dogs.
Local Liberal Democrat MEP Chris Huhne says the decision is good news for Britain's two million pet ferrets. He hopes it will lead to a cross-Channel rapprochement at a time of strained Anglo-French relations.
"The EU regulation on the movement of pet animals across Europe will come into force in spring next year, and has a serious purpose," he said. "It aims to remove restrictions while ensuring that strong safeguards remain against the threat of rabies."
Brussels officials have decided to build on current British practice by replacing six months quarantine controls with pets' passports. Microchips which indicate that the animal has been vaccinated and carries no rabies.
New vaccines have allowed huge progress to be made in the fight against the killer disease. During the last decade the number of rabies cases of among cats and dogs recorded annually across the EU fell from nearly 500 to just five.
Mr Huhne said ferrets would now be able to take part in exhibitions and shows overseas for the first time.
"The new law will also make it much easier for British male ferrets to meet French female ferrets. It could have profound implications for the future of the breeding stock on both sides of the Channel."
The free movement of pet insects, birds and fish, as well as hamsters, rabbits and guinea pigs, will also be permitted by the new regulation.