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Last Updated:  Monday, 3 March, 2003, 13:59 GMT
Dutch chickens face cull
Chicken
Bird flu is usually fatal
Tens of thousands of Dutch chickens were being destroyed on Monday after a suspected "bird flu" outbreak.

Thirteen farms have so far been hit by the scare.

Officials said an illness spreading among birds was "almost certainly" bird flu - a highly contagious disease which is usually fatal.

The mass slaughter began in an attempt to stop the disease spreading further.

"Tens of thousands of chickens will be culled in an operation that will certainly last several days," said Agriculture Ministry spokeswoman Nynke van der Zee.

It is very contagious, and can cause severe economic damage to the poultry industry
Beate Gminder
European Commission spokeswoman
The European Commission announced on Monday that the import or export of Dutch poultry and eggs had been banned, reinforcing measures taken by the Dutch Government on Saturday, when the problem became known.

"The Dutch authorities in close co-operation with the commission have immediately adopted" a ban on movement of poultry within the Netherlands and also any export of poultry and eggs," said Beate Gminder, spokeswoman for the Consumer Affairs Commissioner.

"It is very contagious, and can cause severe economic damage to the poultry industry," she said.

The source of the virus remains a mystery.

Pneumonia

Bird flu kills most of its victims by developing into pneumonia.

There have been rare cases of the disease hitting humans, including an outbreak in Hong Kong in 1997.

The Netherlands has a chicken population of around 100 million.

The outbreak is the latest in a series of problems to hit Dutch agriculture.

The country was badly affected in the 2002 foot-and-mouth crisis, when more than a quarter of a million animals had to be destroyed.

Thousands more animals were slaughtered because it was feared they had eaten food contaminated with illegal growth hormones.

And millions of pigs were slaughtered in 1997 in an epidemic of swine fever.

Last year the Netherlands exported nearly eight billion eggs, worth 427 million euros.


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