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Last Updated: Monday, 24 October 2005, 13:29 GMT 14:29 UK
Quarantine review over bird flu
Wild bird imports to the EU could be banned
Quarantine measures in the UK are to be reviewed after a parrot died from the H5N1 strain of bird flu, which is potentially deadly to humans.

It is thought the parrot, from South America, was infected by another bird from Taiwan in the same Essex compound.

The government is considering changing regulations so that birds from high-risk areas are kept apart from those where there is no infection.

There have also been renewed calls for a UK ban on importation of live birds.

The chief veterinary officer Debby Reynolds said holding birds from different countries together would be re-assessed.

"There are quite a lot of unanswered questions, but I think whether or not this is a good way to run things does need to be explored further," she told BBC Radio 4.


A leading avian vet and former chairman of the Parrot Society, Alan Jones, said keeping birds separate should be standard practice anyway.

"My understanding of the situation this time round is that both groups of birds were being imported by the same importer, therefore regulations allowed these two to be mixed," he told the BBC.

"But why anybody should be importing birds from South East Asia in the present climate anyway, and why they should be thinking of mixing them with South American birds is beyond belief."

At least 60 people have died from the H5N1 strain of bird flu in Asia, but experts are downplaying the threat as it does not spread easily in humans.

I can't believe we are still importing birds into this country, exotic or other
Alistair Quinn, Kings Lynn, UK

However, there are fears the H5N1 strain could trigger a flu pandemic if it mutates with a human flu virus enabling it to spread more easily.

Officials had said the quarantine system was successful as the parrot was not released, and the UK's disease-free status remains in place.

However, shadow environment minister Oliver Letwin criticised quarantine procedures, saying the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) was on a "business as usual" footing that was inappropriate under the circumstances.

Taiwanese concern

The birds kept with the parrot have been culled, but further tests are being carried out on them as some died before the parrot did.

Taiwan's representative in the UK has requested an official report into the tests and expressed concern to Ms Reynolds about the implication that the virus was initially in a bird from Taiwan.

It said such a statement "damages Taiwan's image and good reputation as a health-conscious nation".

Defra was not immediately available to comment on Taiwan's concerns.

Defra is asking for a "case-by-case risk assessment" on all birds in quarantine before they are released.

There are approximately 2,000 birds being held in eight quarantine facilities in the UK that need to be checked.

Ban call

Meanwhile, the European Commission are due to meet on Tuesday to discuss an EU-wide ban.

Currently imports are only banned from countries which have bird flu cases, such as Romania, Thailand and Turkey.

But farmers and conservationists have added to calls for an immediate ban on all live bird imports.

"The first good news is that quarantine actually worked, but the fact that we're importing live birds at all into the European Union surely should be stopped at this particular time," said the National Farmers' Union president, Tim Bennett.

The head of external affairs for the RSPCA, David Bowles, said a wide-ranging ban was needed immediately.

"At the moment it's a very strange situation - we have a ban on imports from countries where they have avian flu but we don't have a ban on other countries.

"And obviously the traders who make a lot of money out of this trade will go to the weakest link, they'll go to the country where they think the controls are less.

"Let's stop that," Mr Bowles said.

See secret film of a bird fair where some imports end up

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