All free range ducks, as well as geese, will be slaughtered between
Jan. 5 and approximately Jan. 20 in an area in southwestern France
comprising parts of the Gers, Landes and Hautes-Pyrenees
administrative departments, it said in a statement.
France, which has the largest poultry flock in the European Union,
has reported 89 outbreaks of the highly contagious H5N8 bird flu
virus so far, a majority of which are in the Gers.
"The principle is to quickly kill the species most affected to date
by the virus," the ministry said in a statement, saying these were
ducks reared by foie gras makers.
Some 800,000 of the birds, out of a total population of around 18
million in the whole of the southwest, will be culled in the coming
week, Marie-Pierre Pe from foie gras makers group CIFOG told
It could rise further if the bird flu virus cannot be maintained,
she said, stressing that there are 1.3 million birds in the targeted
Some farms will be exempted, including those which confine birds and
those that perform full production cycles, from ducklings to
transformation into end-products, the ministry said.
The ministry could also stop preventive culling before the Jan. 20
deadline if the outbreak was to stabilize, a ministry official said.
Southwestern France, home to most producers of foie gras made of
duck and geese liver, was the center of a severe outbreak of bird
flu last year, although that involved other strains of the virus.
Several European countries and Israel have found cases of the
contagious H5N8 strain over the past two months and some have
ordered poultry flocks be kept indoors to prevent the disease
The Czech Republic and Slovenia reported first outbreaks of the
virus on Wednesday.
The H5N8 strain is highly deadly for poultry but has never been
found in humans and cannot be transmitted through food.
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Different bird flu strains have also spread in Asia in recent weeks
leading to the slaughter of millions of birds in South Korea and
Japan and some human infections in China.
Most cases in the latest bird flu outbreak in France were found in
the southwest, but some were recently detected in the Deux-Sevres, a
region further north where farms had last year escaped the virus.
Some infected wild birds were also found in northern France on the
Channel coast, in Normandy and near the Alps.
The move could cost the foie gras industry around 80 million euros
($84 million), CIFOG said in a statement.
The crisis last year, which forced foie gras producers to halt
output in 18 departments, cost them 500 million euros and led to a
10 percent rise in the product's retail price.
It also led to a drop in demand for maize, a key ingredient of
(Reporting by Sybille de La Hamaide, editing by Gus Trompiz and
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