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Racing Pigeons Could Bring Bird Flu Into UK, Warns PETA US

For Immediate Release:

11 April 2013

Contact:

Ben Williamson +44 (0) 20 7837 6327, ext 229; BenW@peta.org.uk

London – PETA US has called on authorities to enforce existing regulations and eliminate cross-Channel pigeon racing because of the emerging threat to human health posed by the H7N9 bird flu virus in Asia. The action comes after the Chinese government grounded nearly 2 million carrier pigeons and started banning races because of the growing epidemic, which has now claimed a ninth human life, and the death toll expected to keep rising. A top Chinese pigeon association has decided to stop racing and also to inoculate up to 90,000 pigeons with a vaccine that protects against types of bird flu other than the new H7N9 strain – for which no vaccine yet exists.

"Aside from risking the pigeons' lives, as evidenced by their high mortality rates, pigeon fanciers may be putting human health at risk by taking British pigeons across the Channel", says PETA UK Associate Director Mimi Bekhechi. "We hope the government will take action now rather than wait and see if people get sick."

Birds who survive the gruelling cross-Channel races, which involve crossing the English Channel after being released in France and Spain, may be returning to the UK after being exposed to diseases if they have landed on foreign farms, consumed contaminated water or come into contact with wild birds and/or pigeons raced at the same time but originating in other countries. As a result of recent outbreaks and disease scares, including avian influenza (H5N1) and Newcastle disease, the release of pigeons from international locations is subject to compliance with import rules set out by the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs' (Defra) Importer Information Note CBEU-1. However, a recent undercover investigation by PETA US reveals widespread non-compliance with these requirements. Thousands of pigeons are crammed into filthy, congested cages and transported to and from continental Europe – on journeys which can last up to seven days – and are released to return to Britain without the required checks and certification, in apparent violation of UK law.

A copy of the letter to Defra is available here. For more information on PETA US' recent investigation into cross-channel pigeon racing, please visit PETA.org.uk.