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Bird flu fears see Holland's hens ordered inside

Serving up chicken curfew

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Dutch authorities have ordered that all farmers must keep their poultry indoors, in a bid to prevent the country falling victim to a new infection of bird-flu.

Most birds reared for food are grown in battery farms, and so are kept indoors anyway. But starting today, the Netherlands' approximately 5 million free-range chickens, ducks, geese, and so on will also be restricted to their night-time sheds.

It remains to be see what impact this will have on the sale of Netherlands poultry in the UK. To qualify for the label "free-range", a chicken must have been allowed unrestricted access to the outdoors during daylight hours for at least half its lifetime.

We contacted Defra (Department for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs) for clarification on this question, but at the time of writing have had no response.

The Dutch concerns were prompted by the spread of avian flu through Siberia and into Russia. Experts have expressed fears that migrating birds could carry the disease - linked with infections in humans in Asia - further into mainland Europe.

The country, which is one of Europe's largest meat producers, was forced to slaughter a quarter of its poultry after an outbreak of bird flu two years ago.

Last week, however, the Wildlife Conservation Society said it had not been confirmed that another outbreak, this time in Mongolia, was the deadly H5N1 strain that can infect humans.

It also questioned whether the disease was being spread by wild birds. It suggested it was more likely to be transmitted by domesticated ducks, which can carry the virus without becoming sick themselves. ®

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