The Marketplace Report: Britain's Bird Flu Alert British officials have discovered avian flu in a parrot imported from South America. The bird has been held in quarantine with shipment of birds from Taiwan. Stephen Beard of Marketplace tells Madeleine Brand that the British government now wants the European Union to ban the import of wild birds.
NPR logo The Marketplace Report: Britain's Bird Flu Alert
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Back now with DAY TO DAY. I'm Noah Adams.

The European Union is banning the import of live, exotic birds in a further effort to prevent a bird flu pandemic. Health officials and poultry farmers demanded the ban after a parrot imported from South America died of bird flu in quarantine in Britain. This was the first case of illegal H5N1 virus to be identified on British soil. Joining us from the "Marketplace" London bureau is Stephen Beard.

Stephen, first of all, tell us about the dead parrot.

STEPHEN BEARD ("Marketplace"): Yes. Well, after the Monty Python sketch, of course, it's difficult to take a dead parrot seriously, but this one has caused a lot of anxiety. It was shipped to the UK from Suriname, apparently in good health when it left South America, but died from the H5N1 virus in quarantine in the UK. And the belief is that the parrot contracted the disease from a consignment of other live, exotic birds from Taiwan that were also in quarantine.

ADAMS: Now the joke was the parrot wasn't dead; he was just pining for the fjords. How big is the trade in wild birds around the country? Is it big enough to pose that kind of threat?

BEARD: Yes, absolutely. I mean, so far, of course, all the recorded cases of bird flu in Europe have been as a result of migrating birds, which infected poultry. The specific worry, of course, about these pet birds--and we're talking about canaries, cockatoos, that sort of thing--is that they'll be handled directly by human beings, so that there's a clear danger of someone handling them who has conventional flu, catching bird flu as well and then virus then mutating into something that can pass between humans resulting in a pandemic.

ADAMS: So the thought is that you simply put a complete ban on the importation of live, exotic birds?

BEARD: That's right, because it's a very big trade. A million of these birds were imported last year. However, as Philip Todd, an EU spokesman, acknowledged there is a worry that a ban could give a further boost to the illegal bird trade.

Mr. PHILIP TODD (EU Spokesperson): We have had cases of smuggling in the past, a case of two eagles that were--attempted to be smuggled into Belgium I think a year ago was detected at border posts. So it shows the need for vigilance. We do need to be particularly vigilant against smuggling.

BEARD: Those eagles that he mentioned there had the H5N1 virus, even with a ban; so, therefore, live, exotic birds will remain a threat because of smuggling. Interpol estimates, incidentally, that the illegal trade in wild birds and other exotic animals is the third-biggest black market, after drugs and guns.

Anyway, later today in "Marketplace"--a change of subject--we'll be looking at the traders who will lose out as the NYSE goes electronic.

ADAMS: Stephen Beard of public radio's daily business show "Marketplace." "Marketplace" joins us regularly at this time, where it talks us about money and business. It's produced by American Public Media.

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