Bird flu in Germany - Britain and Europe ban all bird imports

Following the discovery of signs of the bird flu virus in two dead migratory birds at a lake in Neuwied, Germany, a ban is shortly to be imposed on the import of all captive birds from around the world plus a ban on all bird fairs, exhibitions and shows, to protect Britain and Europe from the deadly avian flu virus.

However no traces of the virus have been found in the bodies of another 23 birds found at the same location.

The stringent new controls come as the EU food safety agency is advising consumers to avoid raw eggs and to cook poultry thoroughly.

According to Herman Koeter, the agency’s deputy chief, the possibility of the virus being transmitted through food could not be discounted.

Although further tests are needed to confirm the deadly strain, the discovery has created even more alarm throughout the EU.

A positive result would mean the disease in migratory birds has reached the heart of the Europe, and many EU states are preparing to follow the French and order all poultry and game birds to be locked indoors.

The order involves farms in as many as 21 French departments and is an attempt to protect them from the threat of migratory birds.

Hunters are also banned from using live birds as bait amid fears of contact with migratory birds.

The British Government is yet to follow suit.

The emergency measures being introduced throughout the country and the European Union will be outlined today by Margaret Beckett, the Rural Affairs Secretary, in the House of Commons.

The ban includes the commercial import of exotic birds, such as parrots, as pets.

These are considered to be one of the main threats of carrying the disease, because 232,000 exotic pets and birds have been brought into the EU in the past three months.

Individuals will be allowed to import exotic birds to keep as pets according to strict rules with a restriction of a maximum of five birds.

The birds will be required to pass veterinary health checks and 21 days quarantine before leaving the country of export.

The bans on trade and bird gatherings are being introduced as a temporary measure to ensure there is no risk of avian flu spreading after the first case of the virus was found in a parrot from Surinam, which mingled with birds from Taiwan at an Essex quarantine station.

According to the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA), if the parrot had not died in quarantine last week the birds would now be on sale in pet shops today.

Government vets are uncertain about the facts and are still trying to establish if the virus was at the quarantine centre before the arrival of the birds from Surinam, and which bird became infected first.

It is also unclear if experts at the Veterinary Laboratory Agency conducting the tests had the necessary tissue samples from all the birds in question.

Defra is disclosing few details as yet.

Because of the ban upcoming bird gatherings have been cancelled or compromised in some measure.

The new measures to protect Europe were agreed as ministers considered a new outbreak of avian flu in China and a fourth death in Indonesia.

To date there have now been 68 human deaths and 125 million bird fatalities from the lethal strain in South-East Asia, and health experts still fear that a lethal strain of bird flu may at some stage jump the species barrier in Europe.

Current quarantine regulations are strict and are in the main to prevent rabies entering the country and mostly apply to dogs and cats.

All mammals must spend six months in quarantine as part of rabies control but dogs, cats and rabbits are eligible to enter under a Pet Travel Scheme from rabies-free countries.

Animals such as cattle and horses who do not pass on rabies infection to humans and seals and sea lions are also exempt.

Zoos and conservation or scientific research laboratories may also be licensed to keep animals in quarantine in strict isolation facilities.

Specialist dealers and importers, particularly for exotic bird species, are licensed and inspected by the Government to operate full-time quarantine facilities while some may keep premises for occasional quarantine use.

The quarantine for commercial birds is 30 days

The premises have to be approved by a vet, usually someone in private practice, licensed to conduct inspections for Defra, and must meet quite strict criteria before the dealer can obtain an export certificate from the country where he or she is buying the birds or an import certificate.

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