France in 'race against time' as bird flu rips through foie gras farms

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France says it will ramp up its slaughter of hundreds of thousands of ducks reared to produce foie gras, after the number of farms hit by an outbreak of bird flu doubled.

Agriculture Minister Julien Denormandie on Friday said authorities were in “a race against time" to contain a "highly pathogenic" H5N8 bird flu virus.

His comments come after poultry farmers in south-west France called for a wider mass preventive cull of ducks to try to halt the virus strain.

"We are asking for a sanitary vacuum (a period without animals on the farms) … There is no other solution," said Hervé Dupouy, a breeder in the hard-hit Landes region.

“Then in two months we can put animals back and start producing again.”

Cull 'too slow'

France’s agricultural ministry has already culled more than 200,000 ducks since 1 January, during which time 124 flu outbreaks were recorded.

Some 350,000 ducks have been slaughtered since Christmas Eve, though producers say it’s not fast enough.

"The virus is stronger than us. New clusters are constantly emerging," Marie-Pierre Pe, the head of the CIFOQ foie gras producers’ federation told AFP.

This isn’t the first time France has grappled with bird flu. In the winters of 2015-2016 and 2016-2017, outbreaks led to the slaughter of millions of ducks.

This time round, the virus was first detected in November a bird in a pet shop in Corsica, before spreading to duck farms on the mainland weeks later.

Several European countries have also reported cases of infection.