Outdoor poultry ban to be lifted on May 1

Swiss chickens will be able to heed the call of spring, and head outdoors Keystone

The Swiss government says it will lift the two-and-a-half month outdoor ban on poultry as of Monday, thanks to the reduced risk of bird flu.

This content was published on April 26, 2006 - 12:20

In a statement on Wednesday, the cabinet said it was safe for farmers to allow their chickens outside again since not a single case of avian flu had been reported this month.

The outdoor ban – the second in 12 months – was introduced on February 20 to reduce the risk of Swiss poultry coming into contact with virus-carrying wild birds.

The government said the situation had now eased since most migratory birds, which have been spreading the disease, had flown north to their summer breeding grounds.

The cabinet added that the last remaining surveillance zone in the country, around Lake Constance, would probably be lifted before next week.

Several of Switzerland's 32 bird flu cases, all affecting wild birds, were discovered on the lake's shores. Nationwide, the Federal Veterinary Office has confirmed nine cases of the deadly H5N1 strain.

The virus was first identified in the country in February and more than 1,000 birds have been examined by the authorities.

The cabinet said it reserved the right to re-introduce surveillance zones and protection measures if any new cases of bird flu are found. However, it did not say it would call again for a nationwide outdoor ban.

A veterinary office spokesman, Marcel Falk, told swissinfo earlier this month that the government was working on a plan which would only include a ban "in certain areas where one has high densities of water birds and where one really finds cases."

Risk remains

Falk said the authorities expect bird flu to remain in Switzerland's wild bird population for between five and 20 years, meaning a certain risk to poultry would remain.

The country's poultry farmers have welcomed the decision to lift the ban. Two-thirds of Swiss eggs and one third of the country's five million chickens are produced in free-range conditions.

The ban meant that producers have had to keep their poultry indoors or at least in roofed-structures with wire-mesh sides. The outdoor ban raised concerns that poultry producers would no longer be allowed to declare their chickens and eggs as "free range".

If Switzerland were to adapt European Union legislation, chickens kept indoors for more than 12 weeks can no longer be declared "free range".

About three-quarters of Swiss chickens have had access to at least the roofed structures since 1991 when legislation came into force forbidding the use of battery cages.

In the EU, approximately 80 per cent of poultry is raised in battery cages. The practice is due to be banned in 2012.

swissinfo with agencies

Key facts

The order to keep poultry indoors was first enforced in Switzerland between October 25 and December 16, 2005.
It was applied again on February 20 this year.
The measure affected around 8 million birds, including 5 million chickens and two million laying hens.

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