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Animal Welfare: Wild Birds

Volume 687: debated on Monday 20 November 2006

asked Her Majesty’s Government:

Whether, in light of the report from the European Food Safety Authority and opinion from bird welfare organisations, they will support the imposition of a permanent ban on the import of wild caught birds into the European Union.

My Lords, we continue to work closely with the Commission and member states to develop an EU-wide import regime to apply from the beginning of 2007. That should address the animal health and welfare problems identified in the authority’s report.

My Lords, I take it from the Minister’s reply that the UK Government will not be supporting the imposition of a permanent ban on the import of wild birds, despite the call for one by the British Veterinary Association and BirdLife International because of the appalling mortality rates and welfare regime—and, of course, because of the added risk of importing disease. How does that fit with the Government’s commitment to welfare under the new Animal Welfare Act and to biosecurity, which is a matter that the Minister himself often raises?

My Lords, the noble Baroness’s first sentence does not have any validity. She cannot assume as she does from my Answer what the Government’s position is. The position is as I gave it. There are two meetings in November and December of the Standing Veterinary Committee in Brussels. The UK Government’s top priority will be animal health and public health and we shall make our dispositions accordingly. I cannot go beyond that, although I wish I could. But I do not think that the situation is as pessimistic as the noble Baroness says.

My Lords, aside from the ethics relating to the welfare of birds imported into the European Union, will the Minister support the proposal when his officials go to Brussels to join other organisations to eliminate this transport of potentially dangerous wild caught birds into the European Union and this country, because of avian influenza in particular?

My Lords, the British Government’s position is being put together around Whitehall as we speak. The report was published only a few days ago. Our top priority is animal health and public health, and we shall operate accordingly; that is what we shall centre our policy on. There are other issues around the report, but we must ensure that, if we take decisions on that basis, the EU and the member states do not fall foul of the World Trade Organisation. We are satisfied that we can find an accommodation for this.

My Lords, there is no trade, as there has been a ban for just over a year, since 27 October last year. The importation of 800,000 birds into the EU has not occurred, as there has been a ban in the past year. So the trade is on the decrease. We have to ensure that, whatever happens in future, a black market is not allowed to develop. This needs to be policed—everyone accepts that.

My Lords, what number of birds was imported into this country before the ban came into force? Did any court cases occur as a result of wild birds dying in transit?

My Lords, I have no figure for this country, but importation across the EU came to 800,000 wild birds. The report makes it clear that the mortality of those birds, once they entered the EU to get to their final destination, was unacceptably high. There is no question about that. But decisions will have to be based on animal health and public health, so that arguments made on the grounds of trade issues can be rebutted. We are satisfied that we can get a satisfactory solution to this.