European Union animal health experts have approved French and Dutch plans to vaccinate millions of birds against avian influenza as a precaution. The programmes are the EU’s first preventive vaccination plans against the lethal H5N1 strain of bird flu. France and the Netherlands are the bloc’s two largest poultry producers.The Netherlands secured EU approval to vaccinate hobby poultry and free-range chickens, most at risk of contact with wild birds. Vaccination will be voluntary, as an alternative to the requirement that these birds be kept indoors. France, the EU’s top poultry producer, will vaccinate geese and ducks in three different departments that are considered high-risk areas for bird flu. Last weekend, France said it had found H5N1 in a wild duck in the east of the country. Austrian authorities, meanwhile, have found the deadly virus in a chicken in an animal sanctuary in the southern city of Graz. It had been kept in the same cage as a swan brought to the sanctuary from an area previously affected by the disease – violating rules imposed after the first outbreak there. However a spokesman for the health ministry said commercial poutry stock is not affected.