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  Channel NewsAsia 24 Oct 05
Britain suspects bird flu infection originated from Taiwan

Channel NewsAsia 23 Oct 05
Britain calls for EU ban on wild birds after parrot dies of bird flu

LONDON : Britain on Saturday urged the European Union to ban imports of all live wild birds from around the world after it found that a quarantined South American parrot had died from bird flu.

Animal welfare minister Ben Bradshaw said his government made a formal request on Saturday to the European Commission to activate emergency steps for such a ban. The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA), which Bradshaw oversees, said the government asked the commission to ban all "live wild birds" into Europe from anywhere in the world.

However, imports of poultry, which are domesticated birds, would still be allowed, said a DEFRA spokesman.

The European Union until now has banned bird imports from countries which have cases of avian flu, such as Romania, Thailand or Turkey, according to DEFRA. Bradshaw said in a BBC radio interview that the British government had been considering such a ban "for some time before the death of the parrot. It just so happens that the formal request has been made now." He added he understood "there would be considerable support throughout the EU for" such a ban and one could take effect within days.

He said the European Commission would also have to consider whether a ban would boost the illegal trade in wild birds, although the authorities have stepped up monitoring recently because of fears of bird flu.

The Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (RSPCA) and the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB) both appealed for an EU ban on wild birds after Friday's announcement that the parrot had died of bird flu.

British scientists were still trying to determine whether the parrot from Suriname in South America died of the H5N1 strain which has also killed more than 60 people in Asia. David Bowles, head of external affairs at the RSPCA, who pushed for the ban on wild birds, said Britain did not have the power alone to impose such a ban and had to rely on action taken at the European level.

The parrot "confirms the fears the RSPCA has on the threat to avian flu being introduced through the trade," Bowles said. "Controls in the exporting countries are not working which means that the EU's rules have a fatal flaw in them to prevent disease entering the EU," Bowles added. He said under EU quarantine procedures, imported birds had to remain in quarantine for 30 days. But despite this stringency, the European Union had no control over whether the exporting nations kept the birds in quarantine for the recommended 21 days before they made the trip.

He said the danger posed by avian flu to the European Union from the wild-caught bird trade could be lessened easily by an immediate ban on imports.

Channel NewsAsia 24 Oct 05
Britain suspects bird flu infection originated from Taiwan

LONDON : British authorities said Sunday they believed the South American parrot infected with the deadly H5N1 strain of bird flu picked up the virus from Taiwanese birds while in quarantine in Britain.

British officials announced Sunday the parrot that had been imported from Surinam tested positive for H5N1, the strain of bird flu which has killed more than 60 people in Asia since 2003. But with no cases of H5N1 yet discovered in South America, British veterinary experts suspect the parrot was infected when it was exposed to other birds from Taiwan while it was being kept in mandatory quarantine that all imported birds are subjected.

"Our working hypothesis is that any infection in the birds from Surinam is likely to have arisen in the quarantine system, most likely in the facility in Essex where the Surinam birds shared airspace with the birds from Taiwan," said Debby Reynolds, the chief veterinarian of Britain's department of environment, food and rural affairs (DEFRA). Additional tests on the Taiwanese birds were underway, she said in a statement.

Avian flu is a highly infectious virus among both wild and domestic birds. So far humans have caught the H5N1 strain after coming into close and prolonged contact with infected birds, but scientists fear it could mutate with human flu strains and become easily transmissible between people and spark a deadly pandemic like the 1918 Spanish flu outbreak.

Taiwan has not had any recorded cases of H5N1, although last week authorities said eight pet birds smuggled into the country from China had tested positive for the strain and been destroyed, in the second such case. Authorities in Taipei have expressed concern the island could be hit with outbreaks from either birds migrating from China, which has been struck with H5N1, or those smuggled into the country.

British authorities said the H5N1 found in the parrot was most similar to the virus found in China, rather than outbreaks in Romania and Turkey believed caused by migratory birds. "The closest match is a strain identified in ducks in China earlier this year. It is not so similar to the strains from Romania and Turkey. It is not a strain that the Veterinary Laboratory Agency has seen before," said Reynolds.

Taiwanese authorities in 2004 slaughtered 467,000 birds, mostly chickens, across the island after H5N2, a less virulent form than the H5N1 strain deadly to humans, was discovered in farm chickens on the offshore Kinmen islet.

Related articles on Singapore: wildlife trade and Global issues: Bird Flu

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