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Last Updated: Saturday, 22 October 2005, 19:03 GMT 20:03 UK
UK calls for wild bird import ban
Potentially infected chickens are disposed of in western Turkey
Wild bird imports were considered a "dangerous backdoor route"
The UK government has called for a ban on wild bird imports to the EU, after bird flu was found in a parrot that died while in British quarantine.

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

Scientists are testing to see whether the parrot, from South America, has the most dangerous strain, H5N1, which has killed 60 people in Asia.

Experts fear a bird flu pandemic if it mutates to spread easily among humans.

The bird, from Surinam, was part of a mixed consignment of 148 parrots and "soft bills" that arrived on 16 September. It had been held with 216 birds from Taiwan and died on 16 October.

All the birds in the quarantine unit have been culled, while people who came into contact with them have been treated with anti-viral drugs as a precaution.

'Considerable support'

Environment minister Ben Bradshaw said the ban on wild bird imports could be introduced within days.

We need to make sure that the other 24 member states line up behind this request
RSPB spokeswoman

"This is actually something we've been considering for some time, before the death of the parrot, it just so happens that the formal request has been made now.

"My understanding is there would be considerable support throughout the EU for this," he added.

The Department of Environment, Food and Rural Affairs said it was asking the European Commission to review its position.

A Defra spokeswoman said: "This involves birds worldwide...not just the EU.

"Birds going through quarantine come from non-EU countries."

Defra later said its call for an import ban did not include poultry which it says are not classed as "live birds".

'Back-door route'

The request was welcomed by animal welfare charities and the Liberal Democrats, whose rural affairs spokeswoman Baroness Sue Miller had called for the ban.

Birds in quarantine are not in contact with domestic birds
Prof Colin Blakemore
Medical Research Council

Julian Hughes, spokesman for the RSPB, said a ban was "the right thing to do" to try to close what he described as a "dangerous back-door route".

"We need to make sure that the other 24 member states line up behind this request," he said.

David Bowles, of the RSPCA, also called on the EU take action, saying it was the right thing to do for "welfare, conservation and disease control reasons".

Quarantine 'working'

Thousands of birds have been slaughtered in South East Asia, Russia, Turkey, Romania and Greece as the contagious virus takes hold.

The parrot in Britain tested positive for the bird flu H5, and scientists are trying to establish whether it has H5N1. The results should be known by Sunday.

As the parrot's death was in quarantine, the UK's disease-free status is unchanged.

Experts had said detecting the virus showed the quarantine system was successful.

All birds held in quarantine are tested for both bird flu and Newcastle disease before being released as standard policy.

'No mutation'

Aberdeen University microbiologist and bird flu expert Professor Hugh Pennington said Britons should not be alarmed by the discovery.

He said the virus had been "doing the rounds of the Far East for about 10 years" but still had not mutated into the "form that we really fear - the form that could infect people on any scale at all".

The head of the Medical Research Council, Professor Colin Blakemore, said the discovery of the virus would have been more worrying in a migratory bird.

He said: "Clearly birds in quarantine are not in contact with domestic birds, with farm birds in this country."

Professor Blakemore is leading a team of scientists leaving for Asia on Sunday to research bird flu.

They will visit China, Vietnam and Hong Kong.

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