There is no proof that migratory birds are involved in spreading the deadly bird flu virus H5N1. In a letter to the Dutch House of Representatives, bird advocacy group Vogelbescherming Nederland urged members of the house to stop making statements to the contrary without scientific proof to back them up.
Ten thousand migratory birds have been tested for signs of the virus, with no positive results so far. According to Vogelbescherming, it is much more likely that the flu is being spread by the transport of contaminated poultry birds or meat.
Virologist A. Osterhaus advised that the possibility of migratory birds contributing to the spread of the virus has also not been formally ruled out. The fast spread of the virus from China to Siberia in the direction of Eastern Europe does warrant further investigation.
Vogelbescherming points out that the spread of the virus has not followed normal bird migration patterns. The fact that the virus has so far not shown up in Africa, parts of South-East Asia and Australia is also in favor of their theory, as migratory birds from virus-infected lands would be wintering in those lands this season.
The main message that Vogelbescherming wants to get across is that politicians should rather concentrate on taking measures to control the movement of poultry birds and products across land borders rather than waste time inciting needless panic over the perceived dangers of wild, migrating birds.
Last week interior minister Veerman said that measures should be taken to prevent returning migratory birds from coming in contact with poultry birds in the spring in case they bring the bird flu with them. In principle, Vogelbescherming is not against the quarantining of poultry birds.
The animal protection group Dierenbescherming, however, is against any unnecessary quarantine plan for chickens and other domestic fowl. The protection it would offer the birds is miniscule, while the potential suffering (being kept indoors, in small cages, for example) would be great.
According to virologist Osterhaus, every week hundreds of wild birds are examined for traces of bird flu. Some mild versions of the H5 virus have been discovered in wild birds in Holland, but so far none have had the deadly H5N1 strain.