France to slaughter more ducks in ‘race against time’ to end bird flu

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PARIS (Reuters) – France to expand mass slaughter of poultry as it faces a ‘race against time’ to contain an avian flu virus sweeping a duck-rearing area in the south west, Agriculture Minister Julien Denormandie said on Friday.

France is among the European countries to have reported highly contagious strains of bird flu since the end of last year, raising fears in the poultry industry of a repeat of the crisis of 2016-17, when tens of millions of birds were culled.

Faced with the increase in cases of H5N8 avian influenza in duck farms in the Landes, France has slaughtered flocks in the affected areas in an attempt to curb the transmission of the disease.

“We have to go faster,” Denormandie told local radio France Bleu Gascogne.

“Nearly 400,000 ducks have been slaughtered in the Landes (…) There will be several hundred thousand more, no doubt,” he said, adding that slaughterhouses would be requisitioned.

Authorities have confirmed 119 outbreaks of H5N8 avian influenza in the Landes, compared to 48 on January 1, the Ministry of Agriculture said.

Southwestern France is known for raising ducks to supply the foie gras industry.

The slaughter will be extended to an area of ​​five kilometers around the site of any outbreak, down from 3 km previously, the ministry said.

Although fatal to birds, the H5N8 virus is not known to be transmitted to humans and does not make consumption of poultry products a risk.

Avian flu epidemics trigger trade restrictions. China this week confirmed a suspension of French poultry imports, although France is pushing Beijing to limit restrictions to areas where outbreaks have occurred.

French farmers will be compensated for spent poultry, the agriculture ministry said.

Reporting by Gus Trompiz and Blandine Henault; edited by Barbara Lewis

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