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Competition & EU law insights

Keeping you up to date on Competition & EU law developments in Europe and beyond.

| 2 minutes read

Probing Paws: CMA Launches Full Market Investigation into UK's Veterinary Sector

The UK’s Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) has announced the launch of a full investigation into the market for veterinary services in the UK. On 23 May 2024, the CMA published its final report of the consultation which received a number of responses from various organisations and interest groups, with some expressing support for its proposed market investigation, and others considering it to be disproportionately broad and unnecessary. The investigation comes after the CMA’s preliminary review last September, which received 56,000 responses from pet owners and industry professionals. The CMA had previously expressed concerns about the functioning of the market in March 2024. See our previous update here.

The investigation will be chaired by Martin Coleman and overseen by an inquiry group of independent experts. The group, advised by CMA staff, will use the CMA's formal market investigation powers to gather additional evidence, delve deeper into concerns, and determine any necessary remedies to address these issues.

The CMA's primary concerns, which were outlined in March, involve:

  • whether consumers have access to adequate information to make informed decisions;
  • whether a lack of choice in vet businesses in some local areas is impacting pet owners;
  • whether profits are consistent with a competitive market; 
  • whether vet businesses limit consumer choice when providing treatments or recommending related services; and 
  • whether the regulatory framework is impeding the market's function.

Potential remedies could include requiring the provision of certain information to consumers, imposing maximum prescription fees, and ordering the sale or disposal of a business or assets. These remedies would be legally enforceable. The CMA can also recommend changes to the regulatory framework to the government.

Sarah Cardell, Chief Executive of the CMA, noted that the overwhelming response to the consultation indicated a need for a formal market investigation. She acknowledged the staff shortages and challenging working conditions for vets, but emphasised that the investigation is crucial for ensuring positive outcomes for pet owners and industry professionals.

Next Steps

The first few months of the investigation, which will be led by the inquiry group, will focus on gathering evidence from various stakeholders and conducting analysis. 

Martin Coleman, Inquiry Group Chair, stated that the investigation will be comprehensive and complex, requiring time to fully explore concerns and ensure that all viewpoints are considered. He emphasised the importance of the investigation given the £5 billion annual worth of the vet services market and its significance to the 16 million UK households with pets, in addition to businesses and the veterinary professionals themselves. 

The deadline for completion of the market investigation is 22 November 2025, which may be extended by six months. The CMA plans to share initial thoughts via working papers which will be published between October and December 2024 and aims to release a provisional decision by early 2025.

How We Can Help

Our UK competition team understand the intricacies of competition law and have considerable experience, having worked at competition authorities such as the CMA, which enables them to truly understand the way in which the CMA operates and the types of considerations that drive its decisions. This deep understanding translates to strategic advice for businesses navigating complex competition-related issues. Our sector-focused approach in this area is bolstered by our pet sector working group, ensuring that our specialised lawyers stay on the cutting edge of trends in the pet industry and regulations affecting it. This unique combination of legal expertise and industry knowledge positions Bird & Bird as a valuable partner for businesses looking to navigate competition and other issues in the ever-evolving retail and consumer landscape. 

If you need more information or further guidance in this area, please contact Dr. Saskia KingPieter ErasmusGraeme PayneShelley Nadler.


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