The 102 pigeons rejected by Australian Quarantine after some tested
positive to avian bird-flu virus antibodies probably didn’t even come
from, or become infected in, Canada and Australia could be at further risk because of lax quarantine laws.

One of Australia’s leading pigeon
experts, Mark Stafford, has told Crikey that the infected birds
probably would have come from somewhere else around the world because
countries like Canada are
only used as staging posts for Australia’s incoming birds. Australian
Quarantine authorities have, so far, been tight lipped about where
the birds may have originally come from. And as far as we can tell
nobody in the media has bothered to ask either.

So Crikey put in a call to the Australian
Quarantine and Inspection Service (AQIS) to find out which country(s)
the birds came to Canada from, or if they were actually Canadian to
start with. AQIS spokesperson David Finlayson told Crikey that he
wasn’t sure if he could access that information, but said we shouldn’t
automatically assume that the birds weren’t originally from Canada to
begin with.

Finlayson said that since Canada was officially considered free of
influenza there is currently no arrangement forcing Canada to check
their exports for viruses, it’s entirely voluntary.

Mark Stafford told Crikey that Australia only imported birds from Canada,
the US and the UK, but that birds were flown to these
countries from all around the world before heading to Australia.

So if Canada is not being forced to check its birds before they’re
exported to Australia, and Canada is merely a stop-over for so many of
the birds coming into the country, then this exposes a serious flaw in
Australia’s tough fight against bird flu.

To
date AQIS and federal
Agriculture Minister Peter McGauran have lumped the blame solely on
Canada’s quarantine system, and considering that, according to
Finlayson, there is no legal obligation for Canada to check their
birds, it seems like everyone’s passing the buck to a hapless Canada.

This morning, ABC Melbourne’s 774 reported McGuaran’s attack
on the Canadian system. “They have some explaining to do. It’s a worry not just for us
but more
particularly for them that birds that are diseased in this way can be
certified to be disease free.”

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Peter Fray
Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey
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