Note from Belgian delegation on import of wild birds into the EU (link)

November 28, 2005

Brussels, 25 November 2005

Full text of Document 14882/05
Suite of documents 14882/05

Subject: Import of wild birds into the European Union
- Note from the Belgian delegation

Delegations will find in the Annex an information note from Belgium on the above-mentioned subject, which will be dealt with under "Other Business" at the meeting of the Council (Environment) meeting on 2 December 2005.

Intervention from the Belgian delegation

At the Environment Council on 10 March 2005 the Belgium delegation intervened on the subject of imports of wild birds into the EU. The purpose of the intervention was to underline the need for a revision of the EU policy on the import of wild birds.

The arguments put forward were in particular the following:

* Diseases such as avian influenza, for example, show that the importation of wild birds poses recurrent and serious disease risks for both human and animal populations. Furthermore the consequences of diseases are enormous. An outbreak of avian flu in Belgium and the Netherlands in 2002 caused massive interruptions in trade and required the culling of over 30 million birds (poultry). While hundreds of thousands of wild birds are imported into Europe, outbreaks of new infectious diseases can hardly be avoided.

* The import of wild species threatens the survival of these species. Results from North America and elsewhere demonstrate that simple and clear rules are the most efficient tools because such rules can be more readily implemented by border personnel and because a general ban deters would-be smugglers since they know there is simply no legal way around.

* The import of wild birds poses serious animal welfare questions. A bird's physiology, anatomy and lifestyle make that flying is an essential quality of life as a bird. Caught wild birds face a harsh fate far different from life in their natural environment. In addition, transport and new foods often lead to stress, disease and mass starvation. The continuous catch of wild birds in their habitats also declines the biodiversity in the regions of origin.

* There is an incoherence between the internal EU regime for trade in wild birds. EU Council Directive 79/409/EEC on the conservation of wild birds offers protection to the bird species living in the wild in the European Union and to the areas where these birds breed, rest and winter. One of the basic tenets of this Bird Directive is that the import, transit and export of European indigenous wild birds are prohibited. The trade in wild birds originating from outside the European Union is protected by the CITES regime. Although this CITES regime is extremely valuable, it is not necessarily the final stage of the policy governing the importation of wild birds.

* Positive examples in other countries illustrating the opportunities of a revised policy on the import of wild birds. The basic principle in the US Wild Bird Conservation Act of 1992 is that when a species is listed in CITES and, in addition, included on Appendix 2 and 3 where export licences can be used, importation of this species shall be forbidden. However, the Wild Bird Conservation Act provides for a number of major exceptions to this ban: imports for scientific purposes or for zoos are permitted. Imports of birds from countries running approved breeding programmes are also accepted. Furthermore, the Wild Bird Conservation Act introduces a pure (positive) list covering species that are known to be bred in captivity for exclusive purposes or species for which there are sustainable management guarantees.

This Act caused a dramatic fall in the imports of birds, from an average of 700,000 in the 80s to 80,000 in 1994. At the same time, the trade in pet birds increased between 1991 and 1994 from $ 7 million to $ 543 million. This experience makes it clear that a ban leads to a shift in the bird trade from wild birds to captive-bred birds.

* New import legislation may lend support to developing countries eager to draft legislation designed to better protect their biodiversity and natural resources.

Based on these arguments the Belgian delegation asked for the Commission to consider regulations complementary to the Wild Birds Directive that focus on the European import of wild birds. In essence we did call for an European legislation inspired on the US Wild Bird Conservation act and thus making the import of wild birds fully coherent with the principles of the present EU Bird Directive.

During the March Council we noticed some support for our views. Also in a later stage we received support from other member states. Unfortunately however it was the avian flu crises that led to a major breakthrough on this issue with the Council endorsing on 25 October a draft Commission decision to ban imports from third countries of captive live birds. The decisions taken will apply until 30 November, 2005, before which time the Standing Committee on the Food Chain and Animal Health (SCFCAH) will review the situation.

Such temporary measures are certainly supported by the Belgian delegation but we remain convinced that there is a need to urgently assess the overall EU policy approach on the import of wild birds. Therefore we call once again on the Commission and the incoming presidency to have the revision of the import of wild birds on the agenda and to consider making it fully coherent with the principles of the Bird Directive.

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