Animal welfare charities make most of media's bird flu frenzy

Animal charities are capitalising on the publicity generated by the threat of a bird flu pandemic to step up their campaigns on bird welfare.

The RSPB, the RSPCA and Animal Aid are among those using the opportunity to lobby the Government to outlaw "cruel" practices.

Margaret Beckett, Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, issued a statement last week announcing a month-long ban on the import of live birds into the European Union, agreed by the EU Standing Committee.

The Government has also decided, with fellow member states, to temporarily prohibit bird fairs, markets and shows, except where a risk assessment shows they can be safely conducted.

But these measures have not gone far enough for the charities.

The RSPB is calling on the wild bird import ban to be made permanent to reduce the risk of the H5N1 strain of avian flu reaching the UK. It argues that a permanent ban would also prevent any more species becoming extinct because of the pet trade.

Julian Hughes, head of species conservation at the RSPB, argues that the trade in imported wild birds is putting many of them at risk.

The bird protection charity is working with other organisations, including BirdLife International, the Wildfowl and Wetlands Trust and the British Trust for Ornithology, to evaluate the risk.

Claudia Tarry, head of campaigns at Animal Aid, also wants to see a full ban. She said: "The exotic bird trade is corrupt, cruel and risky."

Animal Aid is also lobbying to stop the game bird industry from breeding pheasants and partridges for the next shooting season.

The RSPCA has long campaigned for a ban on commercial pet fairs and now wants this temporary law to become permanent.

Dr Arthur Lindley, director of science at the RSPCA, said: "We have advised for many years that commercial pet fairs expose birds to an increased risk of disease."

AND ALSO...

The NACVS has written to its members urging them to contact directors of public health to offer their services in the event of an avian flu pandemic.

Chief executive Kevin Curley said that action needed to be locally determined and planned with Primary Care Trusts and local authorities.

He quoted public health advice that members should consider how they would sustain services if 25 per cent of staff and volunteers were sick at one time.

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