The European Union has agreed to slap a ban on pet bird imports from the rest of the world, in its latest attempt to stop the spread of avian influenza across the continent.
They have to have a clean bill of health before they can enter the EU
The ban, initially valid for a month, came amid reports of a possible outbreak in Germany, which if confirmed would have been the first among birds in the wild in western Europe. German officials have since said that they are almost certain the birds died from poison and carried a harmless flu virus.
Concern was also raised by the discovery of a lethal strain of bird flu in a parrot that died while in quarantine in Britain last week.
The EU import ban was agreed in Brussels by veterinary experts from the EU's 25 member states, based on proposals drawn up urgently by the European Commission following the British case.
"These measures... aim to strengthen further the EU's defenses against avian influenza," said the commission in a statement.
Commercial, private birds ha n dled differe n tly
The new ban covers captive live birds other than poultry imported for commercial purposes, while separate measures were agreed for private imports of pet birds, the commission said.
H5N1 virus under the microscope
The EU has bolstered its defenses against bird flu after the H5N1 lethal strain of the virus, which has killed over 60 people in Asia since 2003, was found in Turkey and Romania.
The sense of urgency was heightened further when British authorities confirmed at the end of last week that a parrot which died while in quarantine was infected with the deadly Asian strain.
Croatia n poultry ba n n ed
Swans in Croatia were infected with H5N1
In a separate measure to stop the disease spreading the EU commission earlier Tuesday confirmed an EU ban on live poultry imports from Croatia, after a second outbreak was detected there this week. On Wednesday, EU officials confirmed that animals in the Balkan country had been infected with the H5N1 virus.
The global ban on pet bird imports, confirmed late Tuesday by the EU's Standing Committee on the Food Chain and Animal Health, will come into force as soon as formally approved by the EU commission in the next few days.
Health certificates n eeded
Under the commission's proposal, individuals could only import five birds as pets and would have to provide certificates proving that the birds were not infected.
A vaccine can only be developed after an outbreak
"We feel that the main risk is through commercial imports, which are large scale imports," commission spokesman Philip Tod said.
About 232,000 pet and exotic birds have been imported into the EU over the past three months.
Health experts fear that a lethal strain of bird flu may at some stage jump the species barrier in Europe and mix with normal influenza genes to create a pandemic that would be difficult to control.