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Written by: Staff

AMSTERDAM, Apr 10 (Reuters) The Dutch Agriculture Ministry plans to lift an order on May 1 on keeping poultry and backyard birds indoors, introduced to protect flocks from the threat of avian flu from migrating birds, it said today.

''The peak period for bird migration is almost over,'' a ministry spokeswoman said.

''We will review the situation once again at the end of April and if it hasn't changed, meaning that there is no bird flu outbreak or disease being found in wild birds, we will lift the requirement (to keep poultry indoors),'' she said.

The Netherlands, a world top poultry exporter and Europe's second biggest producer after France, ordered birds indoors on February 20 as the highly pathogenic H5N1 avian flu strain was found in several European Union countries.

Scientists have suggested that migratory birds play an important role in the spread of the H5N1 virus, which originated in Asia and has killed over 100 people worldwide so far.

The Dutch ministry said it will reintroduce the measure at the end of August or September when the next migratory period starts. The measure will apply for free ranging birds which have not been vaccinated, the spokeswoman said.

The Netherlands launched preventive vaccination last month for its 1-3 million backyard poultry and about 5 million free-range poultry against H5N1. Vaccination is voluntary and an alternative to the requirement that birds be kept indoors.

But many Dutch farmers are choosing to wait because they fear a negative effect on exports as some countries refuse to buy meat and eggs from vaccinated animals due to consumers fear of possible health risk.

CALL FOR URGENT HELP The main Dutch poultry farmers union NOP said later today losses from lower poultry prices in Europe and declining exports amounted to about 60 million euros so far as the spread of H5N1 in the EU had hit consumption.

NOP and the main Dutch farmers union LTO called on the government to urgently start paying compensation to help cover the losses on the Netherlands' 1.5 billion euros ($1.82 billion) poultry industry.

''The damage to the sector ... is going up each week,'' NOP chairman Jan Wolleswinkel told Reuters.

''Egg prices are 10 per cent lower, while chicken meat prices are 20 to 25 per cent lower. Exports have dropped significantly to Germany, the UK and Italy,'' he said.

The European Commission, EU's executive, decided in March to co-finance half of the cost of programmes that governments undertook to restore confidence in the poultry sector. The decision has to be approved by European Parliament.

The Dutch agriculture ministry said it would announce later this week how much it could afford to pay in compensation.


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