Dutch government to allow keeping poultry outdoors

The Dutch government intends to end its ban on keeping poultry outdoors after downgrading its perception of the threat from bird flu.

Farmers whose flocks are deemed less likely to come into contact with wild birds will be allowed to keep their fowl outside again, said Benno Bruggink, a spokesman for Agriculture Minister Cees Veerman. The ban was sparked by concerns wild birds migrating from Russia would bring the disease to Europe.

"It's time to move to tailor-made measures and that means in different areas, you can have different rules," Bruggink said by telephone Tuesday. A date for implementing the new regime hasn't been decided, he said.

Bloomberg reports, that the Netherlands, which culled at least 25 million fowl following a previous outbreak of bird flu in 2003, was the only one of the European Union's 25 governments to order poultry indoors on concern that migrating birds might reintroduce the disease this year. Continuing the measure would have deprived Dutch farmers of the right to receive a premium price for so- called free-range eggs.

Migratory birds from Siberia, where the deadly virus known as H5N1 was detected in July, may take it to the Caspian Sea, the Black Sea and the Balkans, from where it could spread through central and southern Europe, the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization said on Aug. 31.

The news that H5N1 had spread from southeast Asia into Russia prompted Veerman to introduce restrictions on his country's 650 million-euro ($790 million) chicken industry. Six percent of the Netherlands' 86 million poultry population was roaming outdoors before last month's ban.

Other European countries have focused their attention on protecting humans from the disease, which has been transferred to more than 100 people in Asia and killed half of them since 2004. The World Health Organization has said the virus may mutate to allow it to pass between humans, threatening an influenza pandemic like the one that led to more than 40 million deaths worldwide in 1918.

Belgian authorities are subsidizing vaccinations against common flu in an effort to prevent that virus from combining with bird flu. France and Italy are among nations stockpiling medicines, made by companies including Roche Holdings AG, to protect their populations in the event of an outbreak.

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