DUTCH poultry producers will no longer have to house birds as the risk of bird flu is lower, according to the country’s agricultural minister.

Free-range poultry has been housed since 12 February because of the threat of highly pathogenic H5N8 bird flu, which has circulated across Eastern and Central Europe since late December last year.

A German farm near the Dutch border was the closest that the disease travelled west in commercial poultry, which led to a four-week extension of the housing order in late March.

Since then, new cases have emerged, in particular a cluster of more than 100 farms hit by H5N8 in Hungary.

But the Czech Republic, Bulgaria, Germany, Poland, Romania, Slovakia and Ukraine have not recorded any new cases, according to Defra’s latest assessment (21 April).

Migratory birds

Farm minister Carola Schouten wrote to the Dutch parliament in late April to say the risk from migratory birds was lower, so birds could range once again.

She said that, since the late March extension, no outbreaks had been discovered in or close to the Dutch border, and that weather conditions were now unfavourable for the virus.

Higher biosecurity and cleaning regimes remain in place for shipments of poultry products from bird-flu affected parts of Europe, she added.

Keep biosecurity

Defra’s latest assessment recommends that enhanced biosecurity measures should remain in place on UK poultry farms, despite waterfowl migration being underway.

“It should be noted that the virus could potentially survive on pasture in wild bird faeces for several weeks at ambient temperatures at this time of year, emphasising the importance of these measures.”

It added that, given there have been few cases in recent years, wild bird immunity to H5 avian influenza might be low, underlining the importance of high biosecurity.