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Last Updated: Wednesday, 16 April, 2003, 14:28 GMT 15:28 UK
Bird flu suspected in Belgium
Battery farm
Belgium will slaughter thousands of birds
Belgium has been forced to ban all chicken and egg exports after an outbreak of bird flu apparently spread across the Dutch border.

Food safety officials announced on Wednesday that the a suspected case of the highly-contagious disease was thought to have been found on a farm near the border.

A quarter of a million birds near the farm, in the eastern border region of Limburg, will now be slaughtered.

"The entire poultry sector will be immobilised - that means there will be no contact between farms and other related businesses," said Consumer Safety and Environment Minister Jef Tavernier.

The outbreak came to light when hundreds of birds died on a farm in the village of Meeuwen-Gruitrode.

The movement of poultry and eggs from Belgian farms has also been halted.

Poultry and egg movements have been banned
Authorities in the neighbouring Netherlands have fought since Feburary to contain the bird flu outbreak.

Eleven million birds have been slaughtered - around 10% of the entire Dutch flock - but new cases of the disease are still being found.

All Dutch poultry and egg exports remain banned - costing the industry an estimated two million euros a day.

The disease has also had an impact in Germany, where some birds have been culled as a precaution. No cases have been found in Germany.

Contact fears

Belgian officials have urged farmers to report any suspected flu cases at once, and to take care in person-to-person contact.

"In the Netherlands, the disease spread through contacts between people," said head of Belgium's food safety authority (Afsca) Piet Vanthemsche, announcing the outbreak.

The Belgian restrictions will stay in force for at least a week.

Final tests will confirm whether the illness is definitely bird flu, but Belgian officials said they had little hope.

Bird flu kills many of its avian victims.

It is seldom caught by humans, for whom it is generally harmless.

Bird flu halts Dutch exports
07 Apr 03  |  Business
Dutch chickens face cull
03 Mar 03  |  Europe
Bird flu claims Hong Kong victim
20 Feb 03  |  Asia-Pacific

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