French duck, geese farmers to delay rearing due to bird flu

15 Jan, 2016 9:56 am

PARIS – French poultry producers will halt new duck and goose production for several months to contain a bird flu virus outbreak that has spread in the southwest of the country, the farm ministry said.

The highly pathogenic virus was found this week at a farm located outside a broad restriction zone set up last month to stop the spread of the disease that led a growing number of countries to ban French poultry products.

The plan was agreed at a meeting between farm ministry officials and sector representatives on Thursday. It will be submitted next week to the European Commission for approval.

Producers will suspend new rearing starting from Jan. 18 and wait for farms, slaughterhouses and production equipment in the region to be cleaned and disinfected before resuming it, the ministry said.

Farms where rearing has already started will be allowed to continue production until the animals are culled. “This plan will allow the re-establishment of healthy ducklings, in sanitized farms, by the end of the first half. Production will then be able to resume to ensure production for the year-end celebrations in good conditions,” the ministry said in a statement.

Bird flu emerged in France at an awkward time for farmers and food firms in the southwest, the country’s main foie gras producing region, as the year-end holidays bring peak demand for poultry meat and specialties such as foie gras, made from duck or goose liver.

Foie gras makers said the freezing of output for several months would have a major economic impact on the industry, pegged at between 250-300 million euros. “State compensation to farmers will be essential to support this very heavy burden,” French foie gras producers group CIFOG said in a statement.

France, the European Union’s largest agricultural producer, has recorded 69 outbreaks of highly pathogenic bird flu in eight administrative departments in the southwest of the country since late November, farm ministry data showed.

Bird flu cannot be transmitted to humans through food. Some viruses have infected humans, but initial results showed that the strains found in France posed no risk of being caught by humans, the farm minister has said.

The planned delay in new rearing will inevitably lead to a drop in output but it was difficult to estimate at this stage how big it would be, a ministry official said, adding that a large number of producers had sold their birds before Christmas and started rearing new ones since then.

Breeding takes around 12 to 15 weeks and complete cleansing and disinfection between three and four weeks, he said.

Despite the spread of the disease, the number of outbreaks of highly pathogenic bird flu has slowed in France since late December, with only five reported since the start of the year, the farm ministry’s website showed.

More than a dozen countries including Japan – the world’s largest importer of foie gras – imposed restrictions on French poultry products, live animals or hatching eggs after the bird flu outbreaks, which were found mainly in ducks and chickens. -Reuters

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