Britain urges EU-wide ban of wild bird imports, examines what strain of bird flu killed parrot

Britain on Saturday urged the European Union to ban imports of wild birds into the 25-nation bloc as British scientists tried to determine whether a parrot that died of bird flu had the strain that has killed more than 60 people around the world.

Ben Bradshaw, the minister responsible for animal welfare, said Britain had asked the European Commission, the EU's executive arm, to ban wild bird imports.

The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs announced Friday that a parrot from the South American country of Suriname had died of bird flu while in quarantine. It was Britain's first confirmed case of the disease since 1992.

The government's chief veterinarian, Debby Reynolds, said Saturday that the bird had an H5 strain of the virus. But it was not clear whether it had the H5N1 strain which has devastated poultry stocks across Asia and killed 60 people in the past two years, mostly poultry farmers directly infected by birds.

DEFRA could not immediately say when the results of tests on the parrot would be known.

Reynolds said the parrot, which died earlier this week, had arrived in Britain in September as part of a mixed consignment of birds from Suriname being held in a biosecure quarantine unit alongside a consignment of birds from Taiwan.

Reynolds said the incident demonstrated the importance of Britain's tough quarantine system.

Colin Blakemore, chief executive of Britain's Medical Research Council, said the case was less worrying than if the virus had been found in migratory birds.

The department said it was in contact with officials in both Suriname and Taiwan as it sought to determine where the bird had contacted the virus.

Authorities in Suriname said the parrot tested negative for bird flu before it left the country, but they were still looking into the circumstances of the infection.

A spokeswoman for DEFRA said the State Veterinary Service, which is responsible for quarantines, was investigating how the parrot got the avian flu virus and how the virus got into Britain. She refused to make any comment on the quality of testing in Suriname, and said she didn't know what type of parrot it was. She spoke on condition of anonymity, as is customary with British government officials.

Because the parrot died in quarantine, the discovery of bird flu does not affect Britain's disease-free status.

The government said the other birds held in the unit had been culled and staff who had come into contact with the birds were given antiviral medication as a precaution, AP reported. V.A.

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