Animal Aid

Bird flu crisis: Animal Aid Calls for Ban on Pet Fairs and Game Bird Production

Posted 24 October 2005
Battery Hen

As the nation finds itself in the grip of hysteria over a bird flu pandemic, Animal Aid urgently calls upon the government to tackle two issues, which make worse an already critical situation.

Though wild birds will undoubtedly act as carriers of bird flu, Animal Aid remains firm in its opinion that the intensive production of poultry in dirty, overcrowded and disease-ridden factory farms - both in the UK, and globally (including South East Asia, where the H5N1 strain is said to have originated) - is at the root of the problem. It is in these conditions that diseases caused by bacteria, viruses and infestations flourish and mutate. Disease organisms that develop in the unnatural environment of factory farms can cross to wild bird populations when the birds come into contact with blood, faeces and feathers from the intensively-reared animals - or indeed when wild birds touch down on equipment, feeding bins and transporters.

Migratory birds are being scapegoated by international governments, which will not acknowledge the central role of factory farming in such catastrophes.

Whilst the possibility of cooping-up the entire UK free range poultry flock hangs in the air, 35 million pheasants will just have been released into the countryside. These birds are purpose-bred for the shooting industry, which uses battery cages, sheds and giant open pens to grow-on the animals before their release when the shooting season starts on October 1st.

These purpose-bred birds are as much at risk of catching avian influenza from wild, migratory birds as outdoor poultry flocks. Should they become infected, they will in turn spread the virus. Whilst it is too late to halt this year's release, now is the time for the government to take decisive steps to prevent shooting estates from unleashing a new generation of game birds into the wild next year. Breeding for next season's birds, which starts in the spring, must not now take place.

In a separate vein, two weeks ago the Stafford bird fair took place, a one-day event at which many wild-caught birds were on sale to the public. The Stafford sale is one high profile event on the bird dealing calendar, but other smaller, low-key events take place from time to time across the country. Although such fairs are illegal under current animal welfare legislation, the prohibition is flouted by some rogue local councils.

In the recently announced new Animal Welfare Bill, the government set out its plans to legalise pet fairs, at which many wild-caught birds are sold by itinerant traders. As well as being stressful and indeed lethal for many of the birds traded, such events create a major health hazard, as Animal Aid has long warned. The death from bird flu of a parrot destined for the pet trade has set alarm bells ringing. This parrot died while being held in quarantine, however there is no guarantee that other such 'imports' will not end up at pet fairs. The importation of wild-caught birds has brought bird flu to our shores and these events provide the perfect vehicle for disease transmission. The government must reverse its intention to legalise these events.

It is not sufficient to deal with these disease outbreaks on a reactive basis. Animal Aid calls on the government to act now to:

  • ban the import of wild-caught birds
  • reverse its decision to legalise itinerant pet market and bird fairs at which wild birds are sold
  • instruct the game bird industry that because of the current crisis, the breeding of pheasants and partridges to be shot during the 2006 season cannot take place.

Notes to Editors

  • To arrange an interview with an Animal Aid representative, please telephone Claudia Tarry on 01732 364546, ext 228.
  • We have an ISDN line for broadcast quality interviews

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