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Press Release October 2005

Animal experts slam DEFRA for allowing bird flu infection cauldrons

APA has issued DEFRA with a threat of high court proceedings should it fail to abide by a European Commission order to immediately restrict bird markets. The next bird market, of which we are aware, has been advertised for Sunday 30th October at a village hall in Lancashire. DEFRA has therefore been asked to speedily comply with the EC ruling to prevent this and other bird markets from taking place. or else face legal proceedings.

On Thursday 20 October, the Standing Committee on the Food Chain and Animal Health in Brussels agreed on an immediate, EU-wide ban on the collection of birds for markets, shows, exhibitions and cultural events. The UK's Chief Vet, Debby Reynolds said yesterday that her Department would be speaking urgently to stakeholders about restricting these events.

At a meeting of the Associate Parliamentary Group for Animal Welfare on Tuesday 18th October 2005, Ben Bradshaw was asked by Elaine Toland of APA whether, in order to protect the UK from the avian influenza virus, pet markets would be banned and plans to legalise them through the Animal Welfare Bill would be scrapped. Mr Bradshaw short answer was ŗNo˛. His curt response was met with a round of applause from animal dealers and vested interest groups in the audience.

Says Elaine Toland, Director of the Animal Protection Agency:
"DEFRA have for too long given wildlife dealers a free ride, and this has led to largely unregulated trade in exotic animals and to Britain becoming known as the dirty man of Europe where animal imports are concerned. Pet markets - which have been illegal since 1983 - epitomise all that is seedy about exotic imports, and avian flu is a timely reminder to DEFRA not to let these markets get a foothold in the UK. The EU know this and the UK must follow suit."

APA anticipates a European Commission decision today to ban all wild bird imports into the European Union but hopes that the ban will eventually be made permanent. The Agency believes that the ban will be useless in preventing bird flu if DEFRA continues to allow bird markets which provide an ideal channel for the selling of illegally imported birds, including birds brought through other EU countries where the enforcement of import bans and quarantine restrictions is lax.

A recent investigation by APA at a bird market in Staffordshire revealed that wild-caught birds from South East Asia - where the deadly avian influenza strain is at large - were on sale.

Says Clifford Warwick, Medical Scientist:
"Pet markets are cauldrons of infection that and if allowed to continue it will only be a matter of time till we have a bird flu crisis on our hands."