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Press Release January 2006

As first exotic bird market is allowed, is bird flu set to wing its way around the UK?

By allowing public sales of birds to re-commence, the UK Government has been accused of side-stepping a European-ordered ban on bird markets, designed to protect against the spread of the avian influenza virus. The Animal Protection Agency (APA), a national organisation campaigning against the trade in wild animals for pets, has learned that the system of approval for bird markets amounts to little more than a 'nod and a wink' from DEFRA. No individual risk assessments will be undertaken and bio-security measures will be virtually non-existent - especially at pet bird sales. The first exotic bird market since the ban was lifted will take place tomorrow evening (4/1/05) at the Ribblesdale Centre, Clitheroe, Lancashire.

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. 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'.

APA maintains that it is possible - if not likely - that the H5N1 virus is already at large within the UK pet bird trade. Species from bird flu-troubled South East Asia were seen on sale at a bird market in October 2005 and traders acknowledged that they were wild-caught. No guarantees have so far been offered by DEFRA that birds from the infected quarantine facility in Essex were not sold to the public.

The venue for the first sale is a livestock market even though the sale pet animals in markets is specifically prohibited by the Pet Animals Act 1951. Disease experts are alarmed that sales of poultry alongside pet birds will be allowed and that exotic birds will be sold at venues normally given over to the sale of poultry and other livestock.

Says Clifford Warwick, Consultant in Zoonotic Infections & Public Health:
"New and exotic diseases are now being identified in birds bound for the pet trade. No amount of quarantine, laboratory testing or on-site biosecurity can safeguard against pet birds transmitting commercially devastating infections to the poultry industry. The most dangerous place for spreading emergent infections from pet birds to poultry is at a bird market such as is planned at Clitheroe."

Says Elaine Toland, Director of APA:
"There is no culture amongst exotic bird dealers of maintaining any level of bio-security but thanks to the Government they won't even be required to! In the midst of an epidemic threat, and after only weeks of a bird market ban being in place, it seems that it's back to business as usual. DEFRA has admitted it gave in to pressure from pigeon and parrot fanciers! Exotic bird dealers will no doubt welcome the opportunity to sell their birds, legally or otherwise."

Issued: 3 January 2006