EU Nations Split On
Response To Threat
Of Bird Flu

By Sarah Laitner in Brussels and
Hugh Williamson in Berlin
European Union countries are split over the best way to respond to the threat of a bird flu pandemic.
The Netherlands yesterday ordered farmers to keep poultry inside to prevent bird flu spreading into the country.
However, the UK played down the threat posed to domestic fowl from migratory birds. The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs said it was not planning any measures to keep poultry indoors.
The split will become even more apparent when veterinary experts from the 25 member states meet on Thursday to discuss the outbreak of the disease which was discovered in Siberia last month.
The tough Dutch measures came as Germany was also considering stepping up efforts to avoid infection by the disease, which can kill humans and wreck poultry industries. The discovery of the H5N1 virus in Siberia has triggered concerns that the lethal strain that has killed more than 60 people in south-east Asia could travel across the Urals into Europe, infecting humans and hitting poultry production.
While most of its 80m poultry are kept indoors, the Netherlands is concerned an outbreak among its 5.5m free-range birds could ravage the rest of the industry.
Fears of the disease arriving in birds migrating from Russia are particularly high in the country because it was badly hit by an outbreak of bird flu in 2003.
The spread of the virus two years ago among its nearly 2,000 poultry farmers led to the slaughter of 30m animals at a cost of hundreds of millions of euros.
"Poultry farmers are very afraid that this strain will arrive in western Europe. In 2003 many farmers were hit hard by what happened and it took a lot of time for them to get going again. Nobody wants this to happen ever again," said Klass Johan Osinga, of the LTO Dutch farmers' union.
The Netherlands last year exported almost ¤500m worth of eggs, making it the seventh largest producer among the EU's then 15 countries. In 2003 it produced nearly 600,000 tonnes of poultry meat.
Dutch farmers will continue to label the produce from the 5.5m birds as free range and organic until told otherwise by the European Commission, Mr Osinga said, as they would still have organic feed and appropriate space.
The Dutch moves are the toughest yet imposed in the EU's 25 member states since Russian authorities confirmed the H5N1 strain of bird flu, potentially lethal to humans, in six regions.
Russia warned that the disease could spread to Europe and the Middle East, as migratory birds moved into warmer areas before winter after nesting in Siberia.
Germany may bring forward a proposed order to keep flocks of poultry in cages to further reduce the risk of the spread of bird flu, as politicians yesterday dragged the issue into the campaign for its general election on September 18.
Poultry industry representatives also called for the order to be introduced earlier than planned, but farmers using free-range poultry were more cautious. Thomas Dosch, chair of the Bioland association of ecological farmers said that "exceptions are needed from the order", such as allowing birds to use open-air pens covered by netting.



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