Animal welfare campaigners have welcomed prompt action by the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) to prohibit bird fairs and exhibitions as a measure to hopefully halt the spread of avian influenza. According to the Animal Protection Agency (APA), the Government's response to the recent outbreak of H5N1 virus at Bernard Matthew's farm in Suffolk is the latest in a series of pragmatic measures designed not only to protect public health but also to safeguard animal welfare.
In October last year the Government proposed a ban on commercial sales of pets at markets primarily for animal welfare reasons. However, according to experts, this proposal will also have a significant, positive effect on public health.
On 11 January 2007 the European Commission, fully supported by the UK Government, permanently banned the commercial import of wild birds into the European Union for the pet trade. Although the prohibition was a direct response to the threat of a bird flu pandemic, animal welfare and conservation groups worldwide celebrated the ban as a crucial measure in protecting wild bird populations from being plundered to supply the pet trade.
Says Clifford Warwick, Consultant Biologist and Medical Scientist:
"While the immediate priority is to secure the containment of infection, tracing the source of this event is very important. The various possible causes include infected material being carried on a person who has returned from a trip abroad or from having visited a parrot show in the UK, or some intermediary contact via a free-living wild bird. The Government's recent proposal to ban pet markets as well as the new ban on importing wild birds as pets are first-class measures to help reduce infection risk. Whatever the eventual cause, it is important not to over-react and victimise wild birds. At the very least, this latest outbreak reminds us that while bird flu is not always in the media there remains no room for complacency."
The APA, which has spearheaded a campaign against exotic bird markets in the UK, feared that illegal dealers posing as private hobbyist pet keepers would still be present at upcoming events.
Says Elaine Toland, Director of APA:
"With avian influenza H5N1 again identified in the UK, any bird gatherings will be categorised as 'high risk'. Although the wild bird import ban reduces further the risk of infected birds being sold at exotic pet markets such gatherings are still a gamble not worth taking. If the temporary ban holds until the Government permanently prohibits commercial bird markets in the interests of animal welfare then we could already have witnessed the last of this kind of risky event in the UK."
Issued: February 3, 2007