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31 October 2005



Paice: DEFRA must answer urgent questions on bird flu


Commenting on the Government’s announcement of a review of avian quarantine arrangements and procedures for captive birds, Shadow Agriculture & Rural Affairs Minister, Jim Paice, said:


“Whilst a review of quarantine rules and procedures is necessary it must not obscure the urgent questions surrounding birds which may have been in the quarantine centre in Essex. The fact that Margaret Beckett has not taken this opportunity to provide further information or answers shows that DEFRA really does not understand how serious the situation is.


“Any consignment of birds legally entering the UK must have been accompanied by paperwork so HM Revenue and Customs should be able to identify any consignments which were sent for quarantine to Pegasus Birds in the last three months and which therefore might have come into contact with the birds which died.


“The government must now explain if any birds shared the premises whilst the parrots and the birds from Taiwan were present. If they did, what efforts are being made to trace them? Has contact been made with cage bird clubs, societies; show and fair organisers, magazines and journals?  Have DEFRA contacted Environmental Health Officers in local authorities? Has DEFRA considered offering amnesty if necessary to encourage anyone to report buying or selling these birds?


“If the stories that other birds went through the quarantine centre at the same time are untrue, then the government should say so.”



For further information, please contact the Hayden Allan on 0207 984 8087


Notes to Editors:

The text of Jim Paice’s letter to Margaret Beckitt on Friday:


“I am writing on behalf of the Opposition, following this morning’s article in the Daily Mail which itself followed yesterday’s in the Express.


On Wednesday, you informed the House that, in addition to the two parrots, thirty two other birds had died in the quarantine facility and were being held in a freezer. Yesterday’s Express stated that in fact fifty one other birds had died but that the further nineteen birds were incinerated. The Mail now suggests that other birds were released from quarantine early and that they had mixed with non-quarantine birds.


Whilst I appreciate that enquiries must be carried out, it is now a week since the death of the parrots was confirmed and it is critical that some questions be answered. First and foremost is the issue of other birds in the quarantine centre. Can you please confirm urgently whether you have any information as to what other birds were in the facility at the same time as either the parrots or the birds from Taiwan which may have been the vectors? Were any of these birds released from quarantine either officially or prematurely? If so, what steps are being taken to trace them and any other birds with which they may have had contact? If there are birds in circulation carrying the H5N1 virus then the health risk to their handlers is serious and the possibility of the virus infecting other birds is high. 


Secondly there are other questions to which we seek urgent answers:

1. Do you yet know whether the H5 virus present in the dead, frozen birds is the same strain as that in the parrots?

2. What information do you now have regarding the origin of these birds and any results of tests done in the country of origin?

3. Are you aware that the Taiwan authorities are adamant that Taiwan is free of Avian Flu and that the birds in quarantine from there tested clear before despatch?

4. Will you publish the latest situation regarding the import of all poultry products from each country in S.E. Asia, specifying from which countries imports are banned?


The Opposition will support the Government in taking action to prevent this disease becoming established in the UK. Clearly it is a matter of enormous importance that any birds which may have been released from quarantine during the relevant period should now be traced. We believe that the public has a right to know whether this is being done.”


Jim Paice MP

Shadow Minister of Agriculture and Rural Affairs.


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