Azara Blog: UK government wants ban on wild bird imports

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Date published: 2005/10/22

The BBC says:

The UK government has called for a ban on wild bird imports to the EU, after bird flu was found in a parrot that died while in British quarantine.

Currently imports are only banned from countries which have bird flu cases, such as Romania, Thailand and Turkey.

Scientists are testing to see whether the parrot, from South America, has the most dangerous strain, H5N1, which has killed 60 people in Asia.

Experts fear a bird flu pandemic if it mutates to spread easily among humans.

The bird, from Surinam, was part of a mixed consignment of 148 parrots and "soft bills" that arrived on 16 September. It had been held with 216 birds from Taiwan and died on 16 October.

All the birds in the quarantine unit have been culled, while people who came into contact with them have been treated with anti-viral drugs as a precaution.

Environment minister Ben Bradshaw said the ban on wild bird imports could be introduced within days.
The Department of Environment, Food and Rural Affairs said it was asking the European Commission to review its position.

A Defra spokeswoman said: "This involves birds worldwide...not just the EU.

"Birds going through quarantine come from non-EU countries."

Defra later said its call for an import ban did not include poultry which it says are not classed as "live birds".

The request was welcomed by animal welfare charities and the Liberal Democrats, whose rural affairs spokeswoman Baroness Sue Miller had called for the ban.

Julian Hughes, spokesman for the RSPB, said a ban was "the right thing to do" to try to close what he described as a "dangerous back-door route".

This could be called shutting the barn door after the horse has bolted. It also might not help. Of course if a government believes something might cause disease it has to act, but the most likely source of the spread of bird flu are not the birds being imported but instead wild birds migrating over or to the UK. So taking out one rather inconsequential potential cause seems more like reacting to media pressure than dealing with the real issue. (And are they going to compensate the people they are putting out of business?) And the RSPB should be careful with what they wish for. If you take their stand to its logical conclusion (about "dangerous" back-door routes) then you could argue that all migratory birds entering UK airspace should be shot. (After all, we don't want to take chances.) Does the RSPB want this (obviously not), or are they just using the case of the poor parrot as a convenient excuse to call for an end to a practise they don't like?

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