A telephone conference took place this afternoon (12/12/05) between DEFRA and bird market 'stakeholders' to discuss the licensing of poultry, pigeon and exotic bird markets subject to risk assessments. The majority of those participating in the discussion were impatient for bird markets to be allowed regardless of any concern for public and animal health. The Animal Protection Agency (APA) and BirdsFirst, national organisations campaigning against the trade in wild animals for pets, believe that such a licensing system would amount to criminal negligence.
Pet bird sales, rather than displays, invite substantial risks to animal and public health and increase the risk of introducing and spreading the avian flu virus. The high volume of animals, their uncertain origin and their relative stocking density at pet markets greatly exacerbates the infection reservoir, cross contamination and the potential to infect humans. Sample purchases of animals from bird markets demonstrate a very high rate of infection even in birds that initially showed no symptoms of illness. The increased movement of live birds would mean that infections could be more easily spread to other animals and also to people.
It is commonly estimated that around half of the wildlife trade is illegal and although wild bird imports into Europe are currently banned, allowing bird markets provides a far greater incentive for dealers to illegally import these birds. The UK is the largest consumer of parrots for the pet trade in Europe and animal dealers, legitimately or otherwise, will seek to make the most any opportunity to continue their business.
Says Greg Glendell, Director of BirdsFirst who participated in today's
"I was dumbfounded that the very reason for calling the meeting to discuss licensing bird markets subject to risk assessments - and despite the legal requirement to carry out these assessments, at no point during the discussion was this even raised! DEFRA appears to be showing a dangerous disregard for human and animal health by bending over backwards to accommodate animal dealers and their ilk and through bending the law in any direction that allows 'business as usual' for the wildlife trade. DEFRA needs to be aware that it will be held responsible for any action which increases the risk of bird flu or any other zoonotic infections taking hold in the UK."
Says Elaine Toland, Director of APA:
"It seems that bird deaths in quarantine from avian influenza may well transpire to have been just a 'close call' but this major incident should have been enough to put the Government on high alert. With a ban on exotic bird imports and sales, the UK bird flu situation could currently be described as 'low risk' but DEFRA seem intent on raising the stakes and proving yet again that it will put vested interests before public and animal health."
Issued: 12 December 2005