France culls poultry flocks amid resurgence of bird flu in south-west

Ministry of Agriculture says persistence of disease shows importance of introducing vaccination campaign

Ducks being taken for culling in Doazit, south-west France, during an outbreak of bird flu at the end of 2022. AFP
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France is culling poultry flocks and increasing biosecurity measures in an attempt to curb the escalating number of bird flu cases, the French Ministry of Agriculture has said.

Efforts are focused to duck farms in the south-west of the country, where — following a brief respite — there has been a surge of new outbreaks, said officials.

“Since May 4, 21 outbreaks of highly pathogenic bird flu have been detected in south-western France, mostly among ducks,” the ministry said on Friday.

France had managed to prevent outbreaks since March 14, which led authorities to lower the nationwide alert level from high to moderate.

As part of the latest measures, any flocks in the immediate vicinity of affected farms will be culled to minimise propagation risks, said officials.

Sanitary buffer zones have also been extended to up to 20km around the outbreak locations.

France is itself among the countries most severely affected by the spread of bird flu in the past year.

The disease has led to the deaths of hundreds of millions of birds worldwide, causing significant disruption to the poultry meat and egg supply chains.

The severity of the situation has prompted several countries, including France, to plan vaccination campaigns for poultry.

South-west France is known for its large duck breeding sector and is a major contributor to the production of foie gras pate.

While this region was severely hit by previous bird flu waves, the ministry noted that it had been less affected this winter, due to steps to reduce the concentration of the duck population.

The recurrence of bird flu cases highlights the importance of vaccinating flocks, said the ministry.

France launched a tender last month to procure 80 million doses, preparing to initiate a poultry vaccination programme by autumn.

The bird flu outbreak has been described as the “worst ever,” with poultry across the globe being either kept indoors or culled as large numbers of wild birds succumb to viruses related to H5N1.

The situation has become a year-round concern, causing worry among experts.

“The virus continues to tune itself up,” says Prof Ian Jones, a professor of virology at the University of Reading, in south-east England.

However, the risk to humans remains relatively low as the virus has not shown any propensity to transmit between people.

Updated: May 12, 2023, 7:15 PM