By Sybille De La Hamaide
PARIS, (Reuters) – France’s largest poultry producer, LDC, warned that an upsurge in bird flu cases in the southwest might lead to the virus spreading to the country’s major producing regions that were ravaged by it last year.
Avian influenza, commonly called bird flu, killed hundreds of millions of birds globally last year, disrupting supplies. Though there have been no documented cases of human-to-human transmission, countries must prepare for any change in the H5N1 virus’s behaviour, the World Health Organization has said.
France, the European Union’s second largest poultry producer and worst-hit EU country in the latest outbreak, has recorded new cases on duck farms in the southwest, prompting the government to reinforce sanitary measures last week.
“We are not at all reassured,” LDC Chief Executive Philippe Gelin told Reuters in an interview.
He feared that duck producers who culled birds in the southwest could be tempted to recoup output in large poultry-producing regions, notably Vendee, several hundred kilometres north, where ducks are being farmed at lower density levels than before last year’s outbreaks.
“We must avoid the transport of live animals,” he said. “The risk is that what we have put in place to fight the virus in Vendee be rendered ineffective by some overproduction or even a return to normal (levels) of duck production in that region,” he said.
France’s bird flu crisis started in the southwest last year before spreading north to regions including Vendee, which has recorded a third of all French farm outbreaks since August 2022.
Bird flu is transmitted by infected faeces or direct contact with contaminated feed, clothing and equipment, or through the air.
Ducks are very receptive to it and remain asymptomatic for many days, increasing the risk of transmission.
France is due to begin vaccinating ducks against the virus this autumn. While Gelin welcomed the programme, he warned that there was still no certainty that importing countries would accept vaccinated birds or their products.
“Everyone is waiting for the first country to start vaccinating, either to do the same or not to, in order to win market shares,” he said.
Brazil, the world’s largest poultry exporter, recorded its first-ever bird flu case on Monday.