Following its announcement yesterday to allow bird markets under general licence, DEFRA now stands accused of inviting bird dealers to break the law. The Animal Protection Agency (APA), a national organisation campaigning against the trade in wild animals for pets, claims that lifting the restrictions on pet bird markets rides roughshod over a law that already prohibits them. The Agency further maintains that the new measures to allow these events unnecessarily jeopardises the nation's health by increasing the incentive for smuggling and thereby increasing the risk of introducing and spreading bird flu.
On 21 October 2005, the European Commission imposed an EU-wide ban on bird markets and exhibitions unless the events were subject to the favourable outcome of a risk assessment. The UK Government formally introduced this ban on 28th October but soon after, bird exhibitions - considered to be 'low risk' events compared with bird markets - were allowed to re-commence. During this period, APA worked with DEFRA to stop efforts by bird dealers who chose to ignore the ban and attempt to stage their events.
On 12th December, DEFRA consulted with 'stakeholders' and admitted to bowing to pressure from bird fanciers in lifting the ban on bird markets - events previously regarded by DEFRA as 'high risk'.
However, the sale of pet birds and other pet animals in markets and public places was banned in a 1983 amendment to the Pet Animals Act 1951. This change of law was not only to safeguard animal welfare but to prevent the spread of disease.
Says Elaine Toland, Director of APA:
"It appears that bird fanciers are now determining Government policy on serious matters of public health but in their haste to appease this minority group DEFRA has, yet again, committed a serious blunder in effectively sanctioning illegal animal dealing."
According to public health experts, DEFRA's proposed risk assessment procedure and 'bio-security' measures are grossly inadequate even to recognise important problems let alone prevent the spread of infection. Risk assessments are normally carried out by a range of professionals with specific scientific experience of assessing the key dangers and not merely by appointing a vet to monitor conditions. Furthermore, any proper assessments should be done before and not during an event. Pet bird dealers, many of whom routinely break the law on numerous fronts, cannot be expected to comply with even very minimal bio-security precautions.
Says Clifford Warwick, Consultant in Zoonotic Infections & Public Health:
"There is absolutely no rational reason for DEFRA to entertain any form of bird market in the current climate of concern over avian influenza. In my view, no respectable scientist of veterinarian would consider a 'positive risk assessment' feasible with these events or offer them any kind of green light. Indeed, it may prove criminally negligent to do so."
Issued: 21 December 2005